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Welsh farming: Protesters parade coffin at Carmarthen demo

Thousands of people in a livestock mart
Farmers, industry members and supporters packed themselves in at a protest held at Carmarthen Showground

Farming industry leaders have warned of "huge unrest" over planned Welsh government reforms.

About 3,000 farmers and supporters gathered at Carmarthen showground in Nantyci on Thursday after a meeting of more than 1,000 in Welshpool last week.

The Welsh government urged farmers to participate in a consultation on the plans, which it said could change.

The protest saw attendees parade a mock coffin into the venue, with a plaque reading "In memory of Welsh farming".

It was displayed alongside further signs, including "RIP Welsh farming" and "no farmers, no food".

Thousands of farmers and people involved in the wider farming industry packed themselves in at the livestock mart.

A motion was passed for the meeting organisers to negotiate directly with the Welsh government.

Financial support for farmers and the rules they must follow are undergoing changes across the UK.

Since Brexit the EU has had no say over farming policy, which the Welsh government now controls in Wales.

It has been working on a new subsidy scheme for farms, set to come in from 2025.

The aim is to reward "sustainable" food production and practices that help tackle climate change and nature loss.

To be eligible for the new payments farms must ensure 10% of land is planted with trees and 10% is treated as wildlife habitat.

Unions argue this will be unworkable for many and the scheme's checklist of requirements will mean more paperwork.

Coffin
Protestors displayed a coffin to symbolise their perception of the plans as the death of Welsh farming

Meirion Owen, a small-holder and agricultural business holder said everyone there had their own concerns, but for him the quotas for planting of trees and changes to school holidays which could affect the Royal Welsh Show were particularly worrying.

"Although the unions have tried their best, we all need to come together in a big force and our voices need to be heard in Cardiff... perhaps we need all to go down [to the Senedd]," he said.

Dorian Griffiths from Carmarthen, who is employed in the farming industry, said: "Without the farmers there would be no food in the supermarkets... people who do not realise they are actually dependent on the farmers for their livelihood.

"This is a chance [to stop reforms] we can't miss."

Mali, left, and her twin sister with their father Rhodri. They've run the farm with their mother since his death
Mali Davies, left, took over her family farm with her mum and twin sister Gwawr after their father's death

A third and final consultation on the scheme is ongoing.

Information events organised separately by unions and the Welsh government have drawn crowds in every county.

NFU Cymru deputy president Abi Reader said: "This is such a different model to what's been there in the past, it's going to have catastrophic impacts on farming businesses.

"I was in a meeting last night and somebody said they went home and just cried."

An economic impact assessment published with the consultation suggested if every farm took part it could result in a 10.8% reduction in livestock numbers and an 11% cut in labour on Welsh farms.

NFU Cymru said this would be the equivalent of losing 5,500 jobs.

Ms Reader said that was "the straw that broke the camel's back".

Farmers have been organising meetings on social media - like Thursday's Welshpool gathering - to discuss protesting.

Action by farmers has been spreading across Europe, fuelled by environmental reforms and rising costs.

Mali on the farm as a child with her sister and mother.
Twenty-year-old Mali, pictured on the farm as a child with her mum and sister, said costs had made things difficult

Farmers' Union of Wales president Ian Rickman said: "It's more or less inevitable there will be some form of protest."

Concerns over the scheme had merged with complaints over tougher restrictions on fertiliser spreading and bovine TB, he said.

"Members feel like they've come to the limit, they've come to the edge," he said.

Mali Davies, 20, took over her family farm near Tregaron, in Ceredigion, with her mother and twin sister Gwawr following their father's 2020 death.

They were studying for their A-levels at the time.

Mali said it would have easier to "pack up, sell the farm and sell all the stock".

"But when something's in your blood, and it's your passion, it's very hard to walk away," she said.

Rising costs had already made things difficult for their lamb and beef farm.

Mali said the Welsh government's proposals made her feel "hopeless".

"Farming is the backbone of Wales, and I want to secure the future for farming. If [protesting] is the only way we're going to get our government to listen to us, then, you know. So be it."

What does the Welsh government say?

Welsh government Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths said she understood it was a time of change and natural for people to feel frightened and uncertain.

"Do I think some of the proposals will have to be changed? Yes, of course I think that - there's no point having a consultation if you don't listen to it."

On the forecast job cuts, she said this was based on an earlier version of the planned scheme and would not be as stark in the final proposals.

She said: "I've always been a minister who wants to work in partnership and I hope (the industry) has been able to see that over the last few years.

"This consultation is meaningful and it's really important people put in their responses."

Additional reporting by Elen Davies

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