Farm viability is critical, but let’s look at society’s wider goals too, says CLA Cymru

17 July 2019

A "state-of-the-sector" feature for the Western Mail's Royal Welsh Agricultural Show special edition.

“Farmers may gain some reassurance from the Welsh Government’s commitment to creating stability in its Consultation, Sustainable Farming and our Land launched this month,” says CLA Cymru Director, Rebecca Williams. But the proposals don’t go far enough to prepare businesses for the long term future beyond the Brexit deadline.  But on the other hand, neither do the proposals go far enough to recognise the unique and vital contribution that farmers and land managers make to meet a range of today’s global challenges such as climate change. 

The Consultation proposes a “Sustainable Land Management Review’’ - intended to balance business performance with environmental and social goals. How this works at farm-level still seems unclear and too many questions are left unanswered. In the short term we welcome the focus on preserving stability in uncertain times, but questions arise how this meets our long-term objectives.  Farmers, foresters and land managers must have confidence in the long term vision to plan ahead with the level of accuracy and detail that all businesses need.

Farming has leapt forward – and so must the support for the sector. The post-Brexit framework is an opportunity to forge an ambitious fit-for-purpose set of tools to ensure future generations are best served.”

Rewarding farmers and land managers for delivery of public good alongside business support is welcome and now well-established in the proposed formula to support post-Brexit farming and land management. We’ve been fighting for that: rewarding land management which delivers sustainable outcomes currently not served by the market. This ensures that political and commercial forces are working together to meet wider society’s objectives

But there are wider business issues to tackle beyond the immediate focus of the hefty document. Today many of our farms are complex businesses. Many have diverse enterprises in a wide range of sectors: manufacturing, retail, holiday accommodation, tourist destinations and amenities, commercial and residential property, renewable energy - to name a few. As things stand farm-support is limited to the farm-gate – a whole different world of business-support exists for the wider economy, and we must make sure the farm-gate boundary for support doesn’t isolate these dynamic diversified businesses.

Welsh agriculture’s support structure must maximise the potential for prosperity in our rural communities. Our system of farm support must embrace and encourage wider entrepreneurship in a rural development strategy which fits with the wider agenda of sustainability, investment and growth. The business support scheme seeks to balance today’s imperatives to meet economic and environmental objectives and to be flexible to meet changing conditions. We recall that Prosperity for All: the Welsh Government’s Economic Action Plan promised to break down the traditional boundaries between different sectors but little evidence of how this will work

This is the key to developing a truly progressive rural economy

To compete on the global scale the Welsh rural economy must be served by the latest infrastructure. Mobile phone and broadband connectivity have improved considerably over the past few years. But as 3G and then 4G have (supposedly) rolled out, 5G looms on the horizon, and parts of Wales seem to be deprived again. Recently the CLA - which runs the #4GForAll campaign – joined other rural representative organisations and Which? - in calling for the UK Government to adopt four tests to ensure mobile operators’ proposals get the best results for rural communities. The current plans have the potential to deliver coverage improvements, but, in their current format they are not legally-binding; and, if met, would mean 95% coverage by 2026 – some four years later than existing government commitments. Parts of Wales could find themselves in that 5% that has missed-out.”

Connectivity is the life-blood of the community today and is comparable to the past imperatives that drove the roll-out of telegraph, telephone and the other essential utilities in the past. We’ll be reminding Government in Westminster and here at home - that the job’s not done until the job’s done.”

A better climate for action

The CLA hosted a timely UK Climate Change Summit earlier this month. It’s followed hot-on-the-heels of the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendations about net-zero emissions targets and the recent public demonstrations by rebellion extinction. Here in Wales the Welsh Government declared its Climate Change Emergency this spring and has adopted the target to reduce emissions to 95% of 1990 levels. Welsh farming has its part to play: our physical impacts are relatively low, but there are quick-wins to be made. To the general public our industry is highly visible and a target for other popular agendas too. Livestock and soil-management and how we use plant and machinery all have a part to play in our part of the solution. Our industry is unique in the contribution sustainable land management can make in capturing and converting both greenhouse gases and particulate matter – and in capturing, filtering and conveying water – meeting society’s wider goals. This takes us right back to this year’s Royal Welsh Show and the current debate about the future of farm support. This must credit the sector for this critical work, and demonstrate to society the valuable role we play.