Welsh Government’s current future agriculture policy plans do not focus enough on food security. Ministers need to remedy this as a Christmas gift to farmers, says Janet Finch-Saunders MS, Welsh Tory Shadow Rural Affairs Minister.
Covid-19 has made 2020 a challenging year for the agricultural sector.
Readers will recall some dairy farmers having to pour milk away; wool became almost worthless, with some burying fleeces or using them as fertilizer; marts have introduced drop-and-go policies.
And agricultural shows were cancelled across the United Kingdom.
However, through this great turbulence and unease, there has been at least one bright star which will hopefully shine for generations to come: the increased appreciation of British farmers and the exceptional sustainable food they produce.
Consumer perceptions of farming in the UK are positive – up to 66 per cent this year!
The proof has also been in the pound, and I have seen constituents spend theirs on local produce.
Here in Aberconwy, the drive to buy Welsh has been greatly facilitated by butchers and small convenient stores delivering produce to residents’ homes.
To my delight, the same support for independent producers and businesses has been a national movement.
In fact, one in four people used farm retailers more this year.
We must keep this momentum going, and reflect the growing national appreciation of our farmers’ hard work and exceptional produce in post-Brexit legislation.
Our Christmas gift from the Welsh Government is the Agriculture (Wales) White Paper.
You could say that Lesley Griffiths MS, Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, has received two wish lists from Welsh farmers and other stakeholders: the responses to Brexit and Our Land and Sustainable Farming and Our Land.
But has she listened?
I strongly criticised Brexit and Our Land for a number of reasons, including my belief that active farmers and productivity should be at the heart of the consultation.
In response to Sustainable Farming and Our Land I spoke of the need for an amended Sustainable Land Management Framework which gives greater attention to supporting food production.
And while I am still carefully studying the White Paper, my initial opinion is that the Minister has not done enough to back food production.
I have no objection to healthier soils, clean air, clean water, improved biodiversity, and tackling global warming, but fear that the predominant focus on environmental outcomes will actually see a contraction of Welsh farming and off-shoring of food production to other parts of the world.
That does not in my opinion make the Welsh Government’s vision for agriculture globally responsible.
In fact, the White Paper mentions food security only twice, with no apparent consideration of the need to maintain and enhance levels of food production in Wales.
Similarly, whilst the proposals are advised as enabling the agriculture sector to decarbonise and take action to increase the size of Wales’ carbon sink in support of the net zero by 2050 ambition, the sector in Wales is already ahead of the game.
For example, NFU has an ambition of reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions across the whole of agriculture in England and Wales by 2040.
While the White Paper acknowledges this, the Minister also refers to the impact of agricultural intensification on farmland biodiversity and public health.
I am pursuing more information about this, and have already had to ask ‘Where’s the beef?’
The document is lacking in substantive detail, and falls short of providing a true made in Wales framework that will allow Welsh farming to thrive in a post-Brexit marketplace.
Supporting farmers and food production is in the best interest of Wales, and fits well with the growing national appreciation of farmers and their produce.
The future Bill needs to reflect that too.
Janet can be found tweeting at @JFinchSaunders