Anglesey beef and sheep farmer Gareth Thomas and Farmers’ Union of Wales officials have highlighted industry concerns, including climate change and future agricultural policies, at a recent meeting with local Member of the Senedd, Rhun ap Iorwerth. Gareth is the fifth generation to farm at Tregynrig Fawr, Cemaes Bay, Anglesey, a 620 acre holding. The family finishes off over 600 beef cattle annually and keep a flock of 200 sheep. All beef and lamb are sold to Morrisons. The family have also recently diversified into self-catering holiday accommodation.
The message on the day was clear - farmers want to work with the Government and all political parties to achieve the best possible outcome for the sector, the wider rural economy and the environment.
Speaking during the farm walk, Gareth Thomas said: “Welsh farmers have delivered positive environmental outcomes for the nation for centuries, and must be fairly rewarded for what they have already delivered, continue to deliver and will deliver in the future. Future targets must work alongside sustainable and viable food producing businesses, not against them, to ensure the environment continues to be managed appropriately.”
Historically, Mr Thomas added, Wales has been seen as an exemplary country in terms of rewarding farmers for delivering public and environmental goods through schemes such as Tir Gofal, which was devised following successful piloting.
“We now have the opportunity to build upon previous experience and knowledge by ensuring farmers are better rewarded for what they deliver for society,” said Gareth Thomas.
Rhun ap Iorwerth further heard concerns over the potential for a farming scheme solely based on environmental public goods and carbon off-setting payments to create unintended consequences for rural communities.
“A scheme focused purely on public goods, alongside the increased interest in land for carbon offsetting, could create unintended consequences for our rural communities. Rural and Agricultural Government funding could inadvertently be diverted from family farms to investors from outside of Wales, capitalising on tree planting payments, whilst removing working farms from the landscape. This would naturally have negative impacts on our rural communities, the Welsh language and the rural economy,” said FUW Anglesey County President Gerald Thomas.
Union officials highlighted that increasing second home ownership and holiday home purchases on Anglesey were negatively impacting the community and prevalence of the Welsh language.
“Local residents are increasingly closed out of their own community from inflated house prices, creating a situation where many houses are not lived in all year round. This affects the viability of most services such as local schools, buses, post offices and doctors surgeries,” added Gerald Thomas.
Members further highlighted that in the past two decades the Welsh Government has quadrupled the number of cattle herds tested annually for the disease, introduced pre and post cattle movement TB testing and split Wales into seven zones - each with different and often complex rules and policies - as well as introducing innumerable other policies, in an attempt to eradicate bovine TB.
FUW Vice President Eifion Huws, said: “Put simply, we have the tightest cattle TB rules in the world. Despite this, the number of cattle slaughtered due to TB has risen almost eight-fold since the year 2000, and so far this century more than 160,000 Welsh cattle have been slaughtered due to the disease. Ignoring the scientific evidence and blaming farmers in order to cover up decades of flawed policies that have led to the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of cattle and widespread ecological damage does not help.”
The latest figures, Mr Huws highlighted, show that the chances of a badger carrying TB is seventeen times higher than the chances of a cow carrying the disease, yet the number of badgers culled due to TB this century is close to being in single figures.
“Welsh farmers annually spend millions of pounds trying to tackle the disease and comply with the rules, causing huge financial and mental pressures that can sadly push some over the edge.
“The Welsh Government has taken the positive step of employing world-leading scientists including Prof Glyn Hewinson to carry out research into cattle vaccinations, and as outlined in the FUW’s Welsh Senedd Election Manifesto, such moves are welcome.
“However, this cannot be considered to be a silver bullet as it ignores the massive disease reservoir in a badger population that is now higher than it ever was in the last century, and this is why massive increases in Welsh cattle testing, culling and rules have not achieved anything like the impact that badger culling has had in parts of England in a fraction of the time,” said Eifion Huws.
Union officials highlighted that a future agricultural support scheme, focussed solely on Public Goods and environmental outcomes which is based on poorly understood and complex environmental factors, risks exacerbating species and biodiversity declines. This in turn risks reversing the work undertaken towards tackling climate change and improving the environment, and undermining the importance of food production and the contribution of family farms to Wales’ rural communities, economy and culture.
FUW Policy Officer Teleri Fielden added: “As a new agricultural policy is developed for Wales, social and economic regeneration in rural areas must be made part of the 'green recovery', as opposed to focusing solely on climate change mitigation and enhancing biodiversity. We must ensure rural communities are not disproportionately held responsible for tackling climate change.”
The Union further asked Rhun ap Iorwerth to do all he can to ensure that costly environmental regulations, which place Wales’ food producers at a disadvantage, do not offset the efforts made by the agricultural sector towards mitigating climate change through having to import more food.
“It is vital that the Welsh Government and Senedd reconsider the principles and objectives of a future agriculture support scheme to ensure that biodiversity, the rural economy and Welsh food production can thrive together,” added Teleri Fielden.