April 24, 2024

Opinion: Welsh SFS plans take a toll on farmers’ mental health

When is the Welsh government going to undertake an analysis of the mental wellbeing of farmers affected by its new Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS)?

That’s a question I asked myself as I drove home from a recent “consultation” on the new scheme in my local town.

I hadn’t actually stayed to the end. I was part of a large group of farmers that walked out prematurely in sheer frustration at what we were being told.

See also: Welsh SFS scheme ‘expected to change’ says minister

About the author

Rueben Powell is a broiler grower from Powys and the current Farmers Weekly Young Farmer of the Year.

A study commissioned by the Welsh government found that, if implemented, the SFS could result in a loss of 122,000 livestock units and 5,000 jobs on Welsh farms.

I couldn’t dwell on it too long, though. Like many, I had to get home to tackle the long list of jobs still to be done before my day was over.

Meanwhile, the Welsh government officials headed back to their hotel, to no doubt sit at the bar and reflect on the somewhat frosty reception they’d just received.

Did they spare a thought for what was going through the minds of the farmers who were now arriving back home, changing into their work clothes to go and tend to their livestock?

Did they spare a thought for the young new entrants, like myself, who have invested heavily in their farms and are already feeling the squeeze from rising interest rates, and the added burden of having to produce more from less once they’ve met the 10% tree rule?

And, as they drove back to Cardiff on the following (Saturday) morning, did they spare a thought for all the farmers up and down the country just starting another working day?

I rather imagine their minds were more concerned on when they could get their expenses claims sent in, and whether they’d get a full or a half day added to their annual holiday allowances.

Barrage of paperwork

Which brings me to my main cause for anxiety – the absolute barrage of paperwork the Welsh government is planning under the proposed new scheme.

I like to consider myself fairly on the ball when it comes to paperwork.

But I still often find myself up late the night before an inspection, going through folders and files, checking that everything is in order. This will increase exponentially under the SFS.

One of the proposed requirements is that somebody from every livestock farm must complete online training for body condition and mobility scoring every five years.

Another requirement is to complete at least six mandatory online courses every year based around “continuous personal development”, with records of completion kept for inspection.

I realise that for civil servants this seems like no big deal – but this just shows the absolute lack of understanding of the way the vast majority of farms are run.

Day off

I don’t know about you, but the best thing I think most farmers can do for their personal development is to get a day off – a chance to stand back and look at their own situation and business.

The Welsh government risks wiping out the very future of rural Wales with this scheme, and it will be the keen, ambitious and mostly younger generation, like myself, who have borrowed money to set themselves up, who will be first to fall.

At what point will we decide that enough is enough with rising costs, falling income and an ever increasing workload? Or will the banks decide for us?

It really is no wonder that 95% of young farmers in the UK say that mental health is the biggest hidden danger in the industry.

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