Fersiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma

We’re calling for a new Agriculture Act that ensures public money supports Welsh farmers to manage land sustainably, so it helps tackle the growing nature and climate emergency and provides society with environmental goods and services essential to our well-being.  

It’s vital the new Act promotes sustainable food production and supply chains, so that farmers receive a fair return for what they produce.

This is our one chance to get this right for farming, nature and future generations

Leaving the EU provides us with a unique opportunity to overhaul outdated and poorly conceived rules and schemes (i.e. the Common Agriculture Policy) that have driven agricultural intensification, and which have inevitably pushed much of our farming beyond environmentally sustainable limits. 

Since the 1960’s we’ve seen a huge increase in livestock. This has resulted in more waste like slurry, chemical use and imported feeds - all of which can and do have a negative impact on our nature, water, air and soils, especially in lowland areas. During the same time, we’ve also witnessed a massive loss of semi-natural habitats (and the wildlife they supported), which have been converted to agricultural grassland to accommodate this intensification. We now know these habitats would have contained large stores of carbon and provided other benefits such as natural flood management.  

The current support system, even with direct (income support) payments to farmers hasn’t maintained farming either. There are 800 fewer farms now than 2014 (Welsh Government figures) and there are increasing numbers of part time farmers, as many must seek a second income to make a living. In more marginal parts of Wales - such as the upland regions - there’s a real risk farming might cease all together as it becomes increasing difficult to make a living. The impact of future trade deals may compound this situation even further.

This decline in farming has clear implications for community, language and culture and there is no evidence to indicate maintaining the status quo, including retaining direct payments, will reverse this trend. In fact, it appears the opposite is true and that direct subsidies paid to farmers are associated with a relatively large decrease in the stability of farm income.

Enabling nature and environmentally friendly farming to become the norm

Our agriculture doesn’t have to be like this. There are many examples of farmers across Wales producing a diversity of high quality foods in ways that look after and enhance nature and the environment. Many of these farmers also practise agroecology - they farm with nature and apply ecological principles and practises to how they produce food and maintain soil fertility (organic farming is an example of agroecology).

In addition, these farms tend to only keep the number of livestock that can be supported by the natural carrying capacity of their land, thus further reducing/eliminating the need for expensive (and potentially environmentally damaging) inputs, like fertilisers and bought in feeds. These traits are all key to maximising farm efficiency and profit identified in Less is More, and should be prioritised and promoted via future farming policy.

There are some who are concerned this approach to farming will impact our capacity to produce food (i.e. our food security). In response the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission produced Farming for Change (2020) which showed agroecology can produce enough healthy food for a future UK population.

The time to act is now

If we are to have thriving nature, a healthy environment and sustainable, resilient farming we must take this opportunity to radically reform clearly inadequate farming policies now. Paying for public goods from land management concluded it would cost £273 million per year to meet environmental commitments through land management in Wales. This is an amount broadly similar to that which Welsh farming currently receive from existing support mechanisms.  

This report clearly shows that a Welsh Agriculture Act that focusses farm support on securing environmental outcomes and promoting sustainable food production will provide a strong argument for maintaining the existing rural budget for Wales. This is because it will ensure value for public money at a time when public expenditure will be under intense scrutiny.  It will also improve farm resilience as, in contrast to the impact of income support, higher agri-environment type payments increase the stability of farm incomes.

Photograph: Welsh black by Eleanor Bentall (rspb-images.com)