The Welsh Government should invest in organic conversion to provide a viable future for farmers after Brexit, says Llyr Gruffydd, North Wales AM and Plaid Cymru Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs.
We face a major shake-up of farm support and investment following the decision to leave the European Union.
Moving down the value chain for a predominately dairy and red meat grassland farm economy would be disastrous for us.
There is a very real risk that the UK Government will open up our markets to such produce and undercut our own farmers.
Our raison d’etre is to keep and build on our high welfare and environmental standards. The Welsh Government’s consultation on ‘Brexit and our land’ proposes paying farmers only for public goods. This does not include food production.
Plaid Cymru is of the view that the production of wholesome, sustainable food for our citizens can be a public good in itself.
We will also be setting out the case for a basic income for active farmers.
But we also need an alternative, imaginative approach to these challenges. I believe organic farming is something which Wales can now specialise in to meet a growth market and provide a viable future for our farmers rather than a free market, low welfare, low standards message of despair.
A concentrated effort to expand organic farming in Wales could provide a viable future for our family farms. It will also help us meet another, almost inevitable consequence of Brexit.
With access to traditional markets likely to be more difficult for upland sheep farmers, and new markets taking years to develop, stocking rates could well drop.
The Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary has intimated as much to the National Assembly’s Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs committee.
Organic production, allied with better quality and improvements to Welsh lamb shelf life, could provide a viable alternative in such a scenario.
Certainly work by Chris Clark of Nethergill has suggested that even on conventional upland farms, the stocking rate could be around 60 per cent of the current rate without seriously affecting profitability. This is due to the high input costs as you move up the stocking rate.
A new capital fund targeted at organic conversion would be required. This could be a combination of the resilience scheme proposed in Brexit and our Land and soft capital investment underpinned by the Welsh Government’s financial transaction capital.
It would need a strong marketing campaign, primarily in our previous markets in the EU. It would also mean a greater take up of organic produce within Wales and the UK.
Procurement, such as school and hospital meals, is vital to this, as well as using organics as the sustainable face of Welsh food for visitors and hospitality.
There needs therefore to be a strategic marketing campaign aimed at selling organic Welsh produce abroad and in the rest of the UK.
The UK was the third biggest market for organic produce in 2015, which means that Wales could still find a large, accessible market for organic goods, even post-Brexit.
The marketing strategy should not only be for the purpose of exporting organic produce, but also as a means to encourage organic food-tourism.
The Welsh Government could encourage or require public bodies in Wales to source a certain proportion of its food from Welsh organic producers.
This would guarantee a constant market and a circular approach to food, nutrition, health and sustainability, meeting the objectives set out in the Well-being of Future Generations Act.
LLyr can be found tweeting at @LlyrGruffydd