Fersiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma.

Public money for Public Goods

Regular readers of the We Love Wales blogs will no doubt have come across the term ‘public money for public goods’. But what does “public goods” mean, I hear you ask? Well, you’re not alone, as it’s an unfamiliar term for many. Here’s our attempt at explaining what we mean by public goods (stick with us - it’s might not be as complicated as you think!)

Put simply, public goods are things that we as a society need but cannot purchase. So, we’re talking about essential goods and services like nature and the benefits nature provides us with like clean air and water, pollinating insects, and habitats like woodland and peatland that help store carbon (to tackle climate change) and protect us from flooding.

The techy definition of public goods is they are non-exclusive, meaning the benefits are available to all people, and they are also non-rival, meaning that if the good is consumed by one person it doesn’t reduce the amount available to others. For example, if one person’s emotional well-being benefits from connection with nature it does not stop another person benefiting in the same way. Likewise, one person breathing in clean air doesn’t deprive another person of the same privilege.

As you can see this stuff is really important - but we can’t buy it.

Farming and Public Goods

So, what does this mean within the context of a new Welsh farming and land management policy? What is the relationship between farming and public goods? Well, sustainable farming has a huge role to play in delivering environmental public goods (after all, over 80% of Wales is farmed in one way or another), and here are some examples:

  • Grazing livestock are an excellent habitat management tool, and when used appropriately can provide homes for a huge diversity of wildlife, including some of our most iconic species like the curlew and golden plover. These homes, such as upland bogs, also benefit us directly by storing vast amount of atmospheric carbon and drinking water.  

  • Traditional hay meadows full of wildflowers provide valuable food for our pollinating insects and other nature, and, for those of us fortunate to see them, are a joy to behold and can really benefit our well-being.

  • Our woodlands, hedgerows and individual trees, as well as being vital for nature, can help reduce flooding and store carbon and lock up carbon for centuries.

We have been long been calling for a farming and land management policy for Wales that uses taxpayers’ money to reward farmers for securing these environmental public goods. It will make a huge difference in reversing the decline in Welsh wildlife and restoring our environment. And whilst food itself isn’t a public good (because we can buy it), a policy that restores nature will also support food production, because we cannot produce food without a healthy natural environment.   

Many farmers, like Hilary Kehoe in North Wales, highlight how nature friendly farming is better for business, as they are better able to cope with issues like flooding, drought and soil erosion. This recent report also shows that nature-friendly farming can be more profitable.  The Nature Friendly Farming Network hits the nail on the head;

 “We believe that nature friendly farming is not only better for nature but is also the most productive and sustainable way of getting food from our land”

Rewarding farmers sufficiently for delivering these public goods creates a new and secure payment for farmers that isn’t affected by external factors such as changes in food prices, the value of the pound or disruption to food supply chains. This, along with help to make food production for efficient and sustainable can lead to a policy that works for farmers, nature and society. And who doesn’t want that?

Keep an eye out on social media over the coming weeks, where we’ll be showing you examples of public goods on farms!