Over three quarters of the Welsh countryside has some environmental or conservation designation, highlighting the important role farming continues to play in maintaining our natural resources, the Farmers’ Union of Wales has said today.
In its Brexit Briefing Paper, the Union stresses that over recent years, that role has expanded significantly, particularly in terms of renewable energy production. Welsh farming, the FUW says, has an indispensable part to play in terms of our need to adapt to changing weather patterns, increased environmental pressures, carbon sequestration and meeting greenhouse gas reduction targets.
FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “Wales also has a long history of implementing agri-environment schemes, and while numerous concerns exist regarding the punitive nature of the current Glastir scheme, Brexit provides a significant opportunity to improve scheme designs in a way which better meets the needs of both farming and the environment.”
Mr Roberts further said that it must be recognised that further moves towards policies focussed on agri-environment funding risk undermining the economics of agriculture and the livelihoods of all those involved in related supply chains, due to restrictions under World Trade Organisation rules.
Specifically, while many politicians and charities have advocated ‘paying farmers for the delivery of environmental goods’, Annex 2 of the WTO Agreement on Agriculture states that “The amount of [agri-environment] payment shall be limited to the extra costs or loss of income involved in complying with the government programme.”
“This severely limits the degree to which agri-environmental payments can deliver the broad economic benefits currently delivered through direct payments,” added Mr Roberts.
In order to ensure Welsh farming can continue to play such a role, the FUW maintains that systems must be introduced which ensure farmers are more fairly rewarded for their contributions to water management, carbon sequestration and the delivery of other public goods.
The infrastructure and investment needed to increase on-farm renewable energy production must be increased, and barriers removed and support for agri-environment schemes must be continued, while recognising the far-reaching adverse consequences of an inappropriate balance between direct support and agri-environment payments, given the limitations of WTO rules.
In addition the FUW warns that the temptation to abandon areas of countryside, as advocated by some, and in particular supporters of ‘wilding’, must be resisted given the severe economic and environmental impacts such policies would have in areas where species, habitats and communities are reliant on agriculture and grazing animals in particular.