Climate change should not be used as an excuse to ruin Welsh farmers who are struggling with Brexit and reducing their carbon footprint, says Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Shadow Rural Affairs Minister.
I write this column on the eve of the European election, so it’s perhaps wise to avoid discussion of Brexit until the fall-out from that is clear.
It’s certainly taken far longer than anyone expected and I suspect it will take much longer again before we’re free from this instability and uncertainty.
Another of the great issues of the day for the agricultural industry in Wales, as well as the wider world, is how we tackle the climate crisis.
I was therefore heartened to see NFU Cymru President John Davies recently commit his union to reach net zero agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.
This comes amid a growing recognition that urgent action is needed generally in society.
We in Wales have seaside communities such as Fairbourne which are already under threat from climate change, with residents facing evacuation due to rising sea levels and storms.
So it’s not an abstract problem for some time in the future – it’s affecting us now and will be a challenge for our children and future generations.
Politicians need to start taking it seriously and, as custodians of our environment, I know farmers and the wider rural community will too.
Welsh agriculture contributes 12 per cent to Wales’ overall emissions and therefore has an important part to play in tackling climate change.
It’s vital we realise farmers are part of the solution, not the problem here.
I’m concerned that the Financial Times reported Wales having a large sheep-rearing industry made it more difficult to reach the Committee for Climate Change’s target of zero emissions by 2050.
Many of the sensationalist stories about the impact of agriculture on climate change are based on studies using worldwide statistics. If you look at Wales-specific information, the story is very different.
For example, the average global milk yield per cow is 2,400 litres. The average in Wales is 7,800 litres – demonstrating that the Welsh dairy industry is much more efficient and therefore has a lower environmental impact per litre.
Productivity is important to lowering a farm’s carbon footprint and, again, we need to see support to make this improve rather than imposing penalties or limitations.
Because of our climate, our animals are mainly fed on natural grass and the Welsh agricultural industry uses rainwater and more renewable energy, but we’re still lumped in with countries which are far less environmentally friendly.
Farmers in Wales already adopt many sustainable practices and work within the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, which has a goal of being a ‘globally responsible Wales’.
I’m delighted that the climate impact of Welsh grazing is amongst the lowest in the world.
Research from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation shows beef production in Western Europe is 2.5 times more carbon-efficient than the global average.
I’ve visited innovative upland farming projects which are looking to boost carbon storage in soils, trees and plants.
These have a knock-on effect in improving storage of rainfall which, in turn, helps lowland communities under threat of flooding.
Providing support and expert advice to boost carbon capture projects such as tree planting, bog restoration and the like will ensure greater bio-diversity and protect pollinators too.
Farmers are also well placed to help realise the huge renewables potential in Wales by utilising their land for wind, solar and hydro-electric schemes.
Many of these are low impact and can benefit isolated communities which have poor grid connection.
We cannot ignore the social and economic impacts of some of the more drastic proposals being put forward.
Welsh Government proposals in 2018, for example, suggested an additional 66,000 hectares of tree planting, which would be on such a scale that it would completely take over the equivalent of 1,400 family farms.
This would have a dramatic effect, if pursued, on the Welsh language and culture of rural Wales as well as continuing the migration of young working families from agricultural communities.
Climate change should not be used as an excuse to devastate Welsh communities when those areas are already doing what they can to reduce their carbon footprint.
Llyr can be found tweeting at @LlyrGruffydd