In recent weeks, like other farmers, we have had to contend with arctic conditions that stand in stark contrast to the mild winters we have experienced for a number of years, meaning worries over the impact of high feed prices and lower fodder quality and quantity are brought into sharp focus - especially when I look ahead and wonder what weather the coming months will bring.

Neither Russia’s war on Ukraine, which has led to eye-watering increases in fertiliser, fuel and feed costs, nor the extreme weather of 2022 could have been predicted, either by farmers or our politicians - and as has been said many times in recent years in the context of coronavirus, Russia’s attack on a neighbour, climate change or the election of Liz Truss, the only thing that is certain about the future is its uncertainty.

But as we look ahead to 2023, we have a distinct advantage - at least in theory: The past three years have made it abundantly clear how rapidly the world can change in ways that are almost unimaginable, and some of those politicians for whom politics is merely a game until the next election will hopefully have started to wake up to the need to govern with longer term national interests in mind.

They now know that even a relatively mild pandemic can rapidly threaten local and global supply chains for key products, and that sudden extreme local events, such as attacks on major food-producing counties, can lead to global shortages of essential commodities that directly or indirectly feed our population and keep the heat and lights on. In early March 2022, we warned political leaders that what was then a days old attempted invasion of Ukraine would likely have negative repercussions for years to come, and all the evidence available ten months later supports this being the case well into 2023 and beyond.

As such, in 2023 our politicians have the opportunity to reverse the trend of belittling the importance of UK food security and undermining the family farms that are the backbone of domestic food production (and they can back up the need for such a move with hard evidence that is there in black and white on every supermarket shelf, with our beleaguered egg and broiler industry being the ‘canary in the coal mine’).

As we look over the border to England - where basic payments were slashed by more than 20 per cent in 2022 but no coherent replacement scheme is in sight, and English NFU officials have warned of severe impacts for English farmers and food production - we can be thankful that the Welsh Government has listened to the FUW’s vociferous and robust lobbying by moving away from the English policies it had originally parroted, slowing down and placing family farms, rural economics and culture and food production on the agenda.

However, 2023 will be a decisive year in terms of seeing whether Welsh Labour and Senedd Members are willing to put their supportive words into a Welsh Agriculture Act that will define our nation’s agriculture for a generation or more.

With the Agriculture (Wales) Bill already presented to the Senedd, and early 2023 set to see a flurry of scrutiny and amendments to the Bill, the FUW has its work cut out in terms of seeking to secure changes that would see promises to ‘keep farmers on the land’, protect food production and rural economies set in stone.

Once the Bill receives Royal Assent, it will become the umbrella legislation for the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) due to replace the current system of support after 2024, and with work on the ‘codesign’ of the scheme ongoing since the SFS proposals were published in July 2022, the Union’s work aimed at ensuring the proposals are made far more practical than is currently proposed will continue in 2023.

Whatever form new schemes in Wales (or for that matter, the rest of the UK) take, critical to the delivery of scheme objectives and the sustenance of family farms and food production will be the budget made available by the UK and Welsh Governments. While the language of the Welsh Government certainly seems more sympathetic to the needs of our farming communities, the willingness to cut £9 million from the rural affairs budget in 2023-2024, despite a nominal increase in total Welsh Government funding, and figures released alongside the Agriculture Bill are a cause for alarm - as is the UK Government’s continued insistence that its £250 million cut to the Welsh CAP budget are justified.

Such moves stand in stark contrast to developments in the EU, which continues to guarantee a multiannual budget and has given approval to billions in spending to support farmers struggling with extra feed and fertiliser costs.

It also seems likely that in 2023, the EU will waive its rules on how renewable energy is supported, and it is essential that the Welsh and UK Governments follow suit by providing support that restores growth in on-farm renewable energy production, a move that would bolster future UK energy security and reduce the carbon footprint of agriculture while providing important income for farming families.

Of more immediate concern to Welsh farmers on the 1st of January 2023 will be the need to have complied with a raft of new and daunting requirements introduced in the Water Resources [NVZ] Regulations. Thankfully, relentless lobbying led in October 2022 to welcome delays and changes regarding the whole farm nitrogen limit of 170kg/hectare, but the impact of the additional regulations that come into force in 2023 will nevertheless be significant, meaning tens of thousands of Welsh farmers will spend their Christmas period struggling with complex calculations and mapping exercises that even the most highly educated politicians and civil servants would struggle with.

The FUW continues to look into how it can provide assistance to members with such complex paperwork, and to this end we have written to Minister Lesley Griffiths urging her to use the SAF and other data accessible to the Welsh Government to provide pre-populated documents and maps that help farmers.

Such new requirements, coupled with a host of proposals for new legislation that will not apply for farmers in the EU, reinforce why the FUW believed Brexit was as likely as not to lead to more - not less - bureaucracy for Welsh farmers. On this occasion we would have preferred not to be right and will continue to campaign against unnecessary red tape.

Whatever issues arise in 2023, the FUW remains committed to fighting for our members’ interests in every part of Wales whilst continuing to provide essential face-to-face services at a county level - work that would not be possible without the commitment of our elected officials and members of staff, who we remain indebted to.

I wish you all the very best for a prosperous 2023.

Glyn Roberts

President, FUW