James Evans and Mark Drakeford have clashed in a Senedd debate over the proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme.

Mr Evans, MS for Brecon and Radnorshire, told the Senedd yesterday (Tuesday) that farmers are worried, scared and angry over the impact the Welsh Government’s proposed scheme might have on them.

The Brecon and Radnorshire MS called at the Senedd for the Government to conduct an impact assessment of what the scheme might mean for farmers and rural communities.

He said that in the previous week, he had visited farms, livestock markets and agricultural suppliers and attended the YFC drama finals in Radnor.

Mr Evans told First Minister Mark Drakeford: “All the people I spoke to are worried. They’re scared and they're angry because of the uncertainty around their futures.

“Rural mental health charities are also being inundated with calls from people who need help and support due to the huge pressures they are currently under because of unrelenting form-filling, TB and a Government here that seems to ignore their concerns.”

Referencing figures from a Welsh Government-commissioned report, Mr Evans said he fears the scheme will result in 5,500 job losses, a £200 million loss to the economy and a “massive reduction” in livestock numbers.

He asked Mr Drakeford: “How can farmers trust you and the Rural Affairs Minister when you say that you will listen to the consultation when it seems to many that this Government ignored farmers during the co-design phase and also did not take account of the evidence that outlines the untold damage that this scheme would do to rural Wales?”

The First Minister said that changes are being forced on the Welsh farming industry because of the UK’s exit from the European Union.

He said an integrated impact assessment was published in December as part of the consultation in the scheme.

Mr Drakeford said: “An updated assessment, together with supporting evidence, will be published before any final decisions are made.

“Let me begin by recognising that, when change happens, people find that challenging. In rural Wales, there are many changes that are inevitably on their doorstep.

“They're there because we left the European Union, with the security and certainty that gave to farming in Wales.

“It is just unavoidable that, while we are no longer members of the arrangements that had sustained farming in Wales for so many years, we have now to put alternative schemes in place.

“When change happens, people are anxious, worried and indeed distressed. I understand that. That is why we go on having the conversations that we do.”

Mr Drakeford said that if MSs are anxious for people and their futures, they should conduct conversations in a measured way.

In a heated exchange, the First Minister then accused Mr Evans of ending his point with “alarmist nonsense”.

He said: “This Government has certainly not ignored the voice of farmers. We have had a seven-year conversation.”

Mr Drakeford said that this year, more than 3,000 farmers have joined in the consultation exercise, with roadshows held in every part of Wales.

He told Mr Evans: “Their views have not been ignored. At every iteration, there have been amendments to the scheme.

“I am confident there will be further amendments to the scheme as a result of the consultation and conversations that are currently being held.

“But it is a conversation between two parties. It is a conversation between farmers, and it is a conversation between the Welsh public who provide the money that goes into the sustainable farming scheme.

“In a conversation, there will be more than one point of view. That's why we carry out the conversations so carefully and over such a sustained period.

“It's not over, and we will go on listening and go on responding. Once again, I urge as many people as possible to take part in the opportunity in front of them to influence the future of the scheme.”

Speaking after the Senedd session, Mr Evans said: “I am shocked and alarmed by the tone of the First Minister’s response yesterday. His reaction to me, and other members in the chamber, makes it very clear that the Welsh Labour party do not care about rural communities, and the future of many farming families across Wales.

“The industry needs to send a very clear message that it will not accept any schemes from the Welsh Government that costs jobs, causes a loss to the economy, and does not prioritise food production because without our farmers, we have no food.”

The open consultation closes on March 7 - you can have your say by clicking here.