If the past few months have taught us anything, it’s that the safe, reliable supply of sustainable food is important to the public. Welsh Government would be wise to recognise food production as a public good, says NFU Cymru president John Davies.
One of the phrases frequently used during this unprecedented period in human history is about the need for us to ‘learn lessons’ from what we have experienced.
With many of us currently either back under lockdown, or having recently been subject to firebreak restrictions, it feels like another watershed moment in this pandemic and an apt time to reflect on what has happened and, indeed, how it should inform our thinking going forward.
Cast your mind back to April and the first throes of the Covid-19 lockdown here in the UK, when supermarket shelves were empty and the food supply chain was stretched to – and in some cases, beyond – its limit.
The sudden lack of availability of many foods meant for the first time in a very long time – save for small pockets of panic-buying in times of severe winter weather – the public, at large, were giving serious thought to where their food comes from.
Farmers were heralded far and wide as ‘food heroes’ for the vital role we played in feeding the nation in challenging circumstances.
OnePoll’s annual Farmer Favourability Survey from the summer showed support for British farmers was at an all-time high, with 86 per cent of respondents agreeing that farmers should grow as much food as they can to provide national food security.
Here in Wales, we have an ambitious target to grow our food and drink industry beyond the £7.5 billion it currently contributes to the economy.
We are eager to serve the public interest in their appetite for healthy, sustainable, locally produced food and enabling the food and drink sector to reach new heights.
To achieve such lofty ambitions, Government must create policy that enables the food and farming sector to flourish.
The new dawn provided by Brexit gives scope to create such a framework that could lay the foundations for a secure and prosperous future.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, our Government in Cardiff Bay, when drawing up their ‘Sustainable Farming and our Land’ proposals, favoured an approach to future Welsh agricultural policy predominately based on delivering environmental outcomes.
As custodians of Wales’ natural environment and living landscapes, we are fully aware of our duty to enhance our environment and encourage biodiversity.
However, at NFU Cymru, we have favoured a three dimensional policy that places an emphasis on productivity, environment and, crucially, stability.
The latter of these three measures, we believe, is a key requirement to ensure the continued supply of safe, affordable, healthy and sustainable food in a world of ever-increasing instances of severe weather events, ongoing political uncertainty and a global health pandemic.
Given all of this, along with the additional unanticipated pressures we have seen on our food supply chain this year brought about by the impact of Covid-19, surely there has never been a more compelling case that food production should be a cornerstone of future policy?
I firmly believe now is the right time for Welsh Government to reflect on its ‘Sustainable Farming and our Land’ proposals and reassess how these plans can better complement Welsh farmers’ food producing capacity.
This is the opportunity to bring together the Welsh food sector from farm to fork in one comprehensive plan, with ambitious targets set for the sustainable growth of the food and farming sector in Wales.
As farmers, we are ready and committed to ensuring the nation remains fed during this difficult time and through future challenges, too.
Our fantastic, natural asset base means we are well equipped to be the providers of the most climate friendly food in the world.
If the past few months have taught us anything, perhaps it’s that the safe, reliable supply of sustainable food is now of paramount importance to the public.
A realignment of policy to support food production, as is the want of the public, and recognise it as a ‘public good’ would surely be a shrewd move for any Government at this juncture.
John can be found tweeting at @JohnPentre