By Debbie James

Policy makers have assured farmers that their latest proposals for a farm support system in Wales post-Brexit will provide them with a “meaningful income stream’’.

The Welsh Government has unveiled its new vision for reforming farm support in a second consultation document.

'Sustainable Farming and Our Land’ proposes paying farmers a sustainable farming payment through a single scheme instead of the two-tiers set out in the first consultation paper, ‘Brexit and Our Land’.

In the 149-page document – twice the length of ‘Brexit and Our Land’ - the government says payments would be based on achieving results such as improving air and water quality that would come from producing food in ways it regards as more sustainable.

This could result from farmers applying fertiliser in a targeted way, improving their soil husbandry and grassland management, animal health planning and reducing levels of antibiotics used in their livestock.

The payment would be annual but the contract would cover multiple years to allow farmers to plan around that income.

The money would only be paid for activities that go beyond what farmers are already obliged to do by regulation.

Unlike the basic payment scheme (BPS), the payment would be based on outcomes, not entitlement, and would only support active farmers – there will be no cash simply for owning land.

The new policies won’t penalise farmers who already have sustainable farming practices because existing initiatives will be assessed for payment in the same way as new ones.

For example, if a farmer already manages an area of semi-natural habitat, they would be paid to continue with this.

Neither would farmers be punished if the expected results are not achieved due to adverse weather or other factors beyond their control.

This would mean that if the government agreed to pay a farmer to improve water quality through nutrient management but there is no improvement the cash would still be paid if the terms of the agreement have been followed.

Money would be allocated to support the supply chain, but only if it directly benefits farmers; this could mean cash being designated to a processing facility that helps farmers.

But with a requirement for every farm to be assessed individually through an on-farm sustainability review, this could dilute the pot of money the government sets aside for agriculture post-Brexit.

The government said it was too soon to speculate on administrative costs.

“This is an ambitious offer but our view is the advisory service is an investment in the capacity of farmers rather than a cost to the scheme,’’ said a spokesperson.

In launching the consultation, Wales’ minister for environment, energy and rural affairs, Lesley Griffiths, said future funding had to recognise the need for sustainable food production and address climate change and biodiversity decline.

“We want to have sustainable farms producing both food and wider benefits to improve the well-being of farmers, rural communities and all the people of Wales today and in the future,’’ she said.

“However we cannot do this alone and need to work with farmers directly to ensure our proposals work on the ground.

“I would encourage anyone with an interest in ensuring farming has a sustainable future post-Brexit to get involved and share their views.”

The last full BPS payment is expected to be paid in 2020 but, with the UK yet to leave EU, an extension to the transition period from the existing schemes cannot be ruled out. A further statement on this is expected soon.

The consultation runs until October 30.