The Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW)’s Brecon and Radnor branch recently held a lively event in Knighton that brought together farmers and growers, Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales Officials, sustainable farming advocates, policy makers, and community members.
More than 150 people packed Knighton Community Centre for the discussion event Welsh Food & Farming – what does the future hold? on Sunday 16th October at Knighton Community Centre. Panellists and attendees alike, many of them farmers, remarked on the level of consensus in the room around the need for sustainable food and farming change and an acknowledgement of the challenges farmers are facing.
The three discussion segments were: policy reform and practical challenges on the journey to a sustainable food and farming system – what is changing and what else needs to change?; farming with nature – how can we make sustainability pay?; and Manifesto for change – next steps and final thoughts.
Jonty Colchester, chair of CPRW, said the event was held to bring together people from all parts of the farming and food sector, the policy makers as well as the front-line workers.
“Food and farming is the lifeblood of rural Wales, and one we at CPRW want to see not merely survive but thrive.
“Bringing this calibre of speakers and representatives together to discuss how we can move forward together and face the challenges front-on is a vital tool to this industry that sends a clear message to everyone that the food and farming industries are up for the challenge.” Said Colchester.
Rhys Evans, a panellist from the Nature Friendly Farming Network & Sustainable Farming Lead Wales said the event highlighted a variety of issues:
“The conference explored such a wide range of issues, which to me highlights that food security isn’t just about the volume of food we produce – it’s about what we produce and how we produce it, its impacts on nature and climate, the availability and access to food, nutrition, reducing food waste and encouraging food sovereignty.
“Policies that support farmers in Wales need to reflect that.” Said Evans.
Gary Mitchell from Food Policy Alliance Cymru, a moderator for the policy segment said the speakers were diverse:
“Having been asked to moderate the first panel of the afternoon with such a great diversity of specialists was a little daunting. But after the future food policy scene was set by our guests from Welsh Government the conversations soon started to flow. There were challenging, probing and supportive questions from the audience and other panellists.
“It was great to see the numbers who turned out, on a Sunday afternoon to discuss these important topics. It was great to see the range of diversity in the audience.” Said Mitchell.
The Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) was explored
Speaking about the SFS in the first segment, Dave Ashford from the Welsh Government said the government was encouraging as many Welsh farmers as possible to get involved in and help co-design the scheme that is still in draft stage:
“The proposals for the SFS are designed to keep farmers farming, and support the sustainable production of food at the same time as addressing the nature and climate emergencies – both of which will negatively impact our future food production capacity.
“We are encouraging all Welsh farmers to complete our co-design survey before 21st November to share their views on whether they feel able to undertake the proposed SFS actions, and what support mechanisms we may need to consider.” Said Ashford.
Some panellists and members of the audience had queries on how sustainability was being defined in regard to sustainable production and sustainable farming, or indeed on what scale sustainability should be measured. Speakers on behalf of the Welsh Government and from Peter Fox MS, the Member of the Senedd behind the proposed Food (Wales) Bill, said that proposals for the SFS, Agri Bill and the Food Bill are being developed on the basis of the UN’s definition of sustainable land management. And that economic, environmental, social and cultural aspects will all be taken into account as they develop legislation urging members of the public to have their say on what should be taken into account via the respective consultations taking place.
Some panellists from the farming sector recognised that significant change was coming but wanted to ensure it worked for the industry.
Christopher Price from the Rare Breeds Survival Trust said that the Welsh Government seemed to be listening:
“Welsh farming is clearly going to change in coming years, with farmers becoming more sustainable and more entrepreneurial. This excellent event demonstrated that Welsh Government has already thought through much of what needs to be done and how to deliver it in a way that works for farmers and taxpayers.” Said Price.
Hywel Morgan, an upland beef/sheep farmer near Llandovery, said that now is the time for action:
“Great panellists, great debates, discussions and great to see good audience participation. Let’s hope this doesn’t just become another talking shop – it’s about time the talking stopped and action started. Well done is always better than well said.” Said Mr Morgan.
Other elements of the farming sector were less upbeat.
Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) Cymru Chairman, Dennis Matheson used the discussion to express his grave concerns for the future of the tenanted sector in Wales. With the sector accounting for almost 30% of farmed land in Wales, barriers in tenancy agreements and the short lengths of Farm Business Tenancies being offered, could prevent tenants either accessing or taking advantage of the proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme.
“Unless these issues are resolved, the future of the landlord/tenant system will be irretrievably damaged and any aspirations for potential new entrants, who do not have a farm to inherit, to gain a first foot on the farming ladder will be lost forever.”
“TFA Cymru was delighted to have the opportunity to speak at CPRW’s event,” said Matheson.
Footage from the event will be available on CPRW’s YouTube Channel shortly, found here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLYUfKu3LJpUjhbtz2JbSDA
Agricultural Wales Bill consultation can be found here: https://business.senedd.wales/mgIssueHistoryHome.aspx?IId=39968
Feedback on the SFS can be made here: https://businesswales.gov.wales/walesruralnetwork/rural-programmes/programme-development-news/sustainable-farming-scheme-co-design-round-2-survey
The Food (Wales) Bill can be found here: https://business.senedd.wales/mgConsultationDisplay.aspx?ID=479