NFU Cymru President John Davies discusses the union's net zero ambition and how, by working together, we can be leaders in climate friendly food production. He writes:
I recently had the pleasure of speaking at a net zero event alongside Lord Deben, Chair of the Climate Change Committee, retailers and key figures from the food supply chain.
The event, which was part of the Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum policy conference was titled ‘Key strategic priorities for achieving net zero farming – productivity, efficiency and land management’ and was held virtually.
While it has been a privilege to speak at these events before at rather grand locations in Central London, nothing could compare to taking part this time from my family farm in Merthyr Cynog, looking out over the farm and onwards to the Brecon Beacons, over land shaped and crafted by farmers for thousands of years.
At the event, I spoke about NFU Cymru’s vision for a productive, progressive and profitable Welsh food and farming industry. We have a vision that this will include delivering jobs, growth and investment for Wales, producing the most climate friendly food in the world against a backdrop of an improving natural asset base. We want to see our communities, culture and language thrive.
Since announcing our ambition for net zero farming by 2040, along with the NFU, we have invested in significant resources and expertise in making sure our ambition becomes a reality. As farmers we recognise the role we have to play in building a zero-carbon economy for the UK. We are committed to reducing emissions from food production and we also recognise we have a unique role as an industry in carbon sequestration.
Our net zero strategy is based upon three pillars: improving productivity in our food production systems, through activities like improved plant and animal health, genetic improvements, and increased energy efficiency; farmland carbon storage; and renewable energy including a strong bioeconomy.
As a union we are clear that net zero agriculture isn’t about exporting the impact of food production to other parts of the world, but instead keeping it closer to home. Our beef and lamb production in Wales is already world leading in terms of sustainability. Our emissions for beef production are about 40% of the global average and our lamb production systems are amongst the lowest in the world, but we do recognise there is more we can, and must, do to cut this further.
"Here in Wales we produce food to some of the highest environmental standards"
We believe we can deliver net zero whilst retaining, if not growing, our agricultural capacity. Here in Wales, we produce food to some of the highest environmental standards in the world, and we must avoid anything that simply exports our greenhouse gas emissions to other parts of the world.
It is not about every individual farmer reaching net zero, it is about us collectively, as an industry, achieving our ambition. We all have different starting points on this journey, and we will have different opportunities and barriers to contend with, and this is why we need access to a whole portfolio of options. This will all depend on our farming systems, our location and factors like planning and access to capital.
Our net zero ambition is based on land sharing; we do not support or promote widespread land use change. We want to improve our farm practices and systems at the same time as maximising carbon sequestration through our soils, crops, hedgerows and farm trees and woodlands, making use of our buildings to harness the power of the sun. We want to produce food alongside capturing carbon and providing clean, green energy generation.
We need to use this opportunity to invest in Welsh farming and food production and make the most of our natural resources. For this to happen we will need to see effective incentives and progressive policies from governments across the UK, as well as support from stakeholders, like our levy bodies, and the supply chain.
"Farming is very much part of the climate change solution"
Climate change brings with it many challenges, but also opportunities. Here in Wales, we know we are naturally blessed with the ability to grow high quality protein in the form of great tasting, healthy and nutritious PGI Welsh Lamb and Beef, as well as dairy products, to world leading standards from grass-based systems. In the context of the challenges facing our global food production system this is going to be even more important.
This, together with the role we play in sequestering carbon and generating green energy, means that moving forward, farming is very much part of the climate change solution. This will only be achievable with concerted support from governments, whether that be in Westminster or in the devolved nations, utilising the world class expertise of academic establishments that can be found in Wales in Aberystwyth and Bangor Universities and with stakeholders from across the industry.
By working together, we can ensure that Welsh and British agriculture will be the leaders in climate friendly food production.