THIS year feels like we are finally returning to some normality. This week sees the beginning of the National Eisteddfod, returned in-person once again like the Urdd Eisteddfod at the end of May. But for me, one of the events that I was most looking forward to returning was the Royal Welsh Show.

The Royal Welsh feels like the beating heart of rural Wales – where the importance of agriculture to our communities, environment, economy, and culture is placed firmly front and centre.

And the Show’s long awaited return this year really couldn’t have come at a more crucial – and turbulent - time for farmers and rural communities.

The global issue of climate change – to which farmers are uniquely susceptible – poses serious challenges and threats to the future of the agricultural sector.

Meanwhile, the demand for land is pushing up the price and pushing young farmers out of the market.

Add to this, the war in Ukraine and the costs for things such as fertiliser and fuel, and not only the lack of assistance from Westminster but the fact that the UK Government is signing trade deals with countries which will actively undermine Welsh farming and you realise the industry needs people to stand up for it right now.

Imagine my surprise then, to read the first minister, Labour’s Mark Drakeford, instead used his platform at the show – not to provide reassurance to the rural community that their government is on their side, but to sow division between rural and urban Wales.

Referring to the new Welsh government subsidy scheme to replace EU-based payments for agriculture, Mr Drakeford said: "If you wish to take advantage of that money, if you want to have help from the Welsh taxpayer, then you will have to find a way of bringing yourself within the scheme that allows me, as the first minister, to justify to Bangladeshi taxi drivers in Riverside, where I live, why they should pay their taxes in order to support farmers in Wales."

These comments are as bizarre as they are irresponsible.

Now, of course, as first minister he must justify any public payments to anybody.

So far, his government have failed to justify the spending of £4.25m on Gilestone farm for instance.

But what he fails to add, or maybe he fails to understand, is that farm payments are for the production of food as well as caretaking for 80 per cent of our natural environment.

This shouldn’t be controversial, and I don’t know why the first minister felt he needed to say this.

He never made such comments when the funding came from the EU.

As a result of Brexit, payments to farmers will no longer come from Europe in the same way as before and it is up to every nation in the UK to legislate to create their own arrangements for future agricultural support – and the Labour Government in Wales have been consulting on future arrangements over the past four years.

And for several years, Plaid Cymru and the agricultural sector have been making the case that food production should be an integral part of any future farming support scheme.

As a result of Plaid Cymru’s constructive working with the Government, we have secured a number of wins for Welsh farmers in this first iteration of the scheme including a commitment to stability payments throughout a lengthy transition period until at least 2029. 

This is in recognition of the fact that for farms to be environmentally sustainable, they must be economically sustainable.

Rural affairs minister Lesley Griffiths published the first draft of the Sustainable Farming Scheme – the government's proposals for future support for Welsh farmers – earlier this month, in the form of a consultation.

It showed a significant amount can shift in the government's thinking of a few years ago, which is to be welcomed, but there are still concerns about the potential loss of productive, good quality agricultural land for tree cover and about the practical feasibility of this proposal. Of course the devil will be in the detail, such as how much funding will be allocated to what purposes which is yet to be published. 

Farming is the basis of our world class food and drink producing sector, which employs over 239,000 people.

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The war in Ukraine has placed a renewed focus on food security so it is vitally important that sustainable food production is at the heart of future arrangements.

The wider social, linguistic and economic contribution of farming must also be recognised, rewarded and incentivized as specific outcomes in any new legislation.

Instead of pitting groups of people against each other, the first minister should explain the value of farming to society and throw his weight behind Welsh farming

The Welsh Government have a real opportunity now to show that support in real terms by introducing a flexible framework and a comprehensive funding scheme to allow our farmers to continue producing the best quality produce, full of essential proteins and nutrition, in a sustainable way.

Mabon ap Gwynfor is the Member of Senedd for Dwyfor Meirionnydd and Plaid Cymru's spokesperson on agriculture.

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