‘Welsh farmers have a unique knowledge and perspective on the farmed environment and also a special contribution to make in its ongoing management and enhancement going forward’. That was the firm message from NFU Cymru President John Davies to key policy makers, academics, NGOs and farmers at the inaugural NFU Cymru Sustainable Agriculture: Food, Farming and the Environment conference.
The event, held at Pentre Farm near Brecon on Friday 7th June, saw the launch of the Sustainable Agriculture: Food, Farming and the Environment report highlighting the important work that is already taking place on farms up and down the country to enhance landscapes, encourage wildlife, improve soil and water quality and reduce climate impacts. The Sustainable Agriculture: Food, Farming and the Environment conference also provided a forum for discussion around the challenges affecting all of those with a vested interest in Wales’ environment.
Opening the conference, NFU Cymru President John Davies said: “As farmers, we want to rise to society’s environmental challenge to be the first generation to leave the environment better off than how we found it. That is no reflection or criticism on previous generations. I am extremely proud of their legacy and what they have achieved. However, over time science and knowledge has changed. The challenge of feeding an ever growing world population has not. In short we need to produce more but impact less.
“Fundamentally, as farmers we know, without sound management of the environment, enhancing of habitats, protection of wildlife and support for pollinators and soils, we do not have businesses. The countryside needs us. With farming occupying over 80% of the Welsh landmass, farmers play an irreplaceable role in shaping the countryside we all enjoy today.
“Every sector - livestock, dairy, arable, upland, lowland, organic, conventional and tenanted – and every type of farm continues to carry out a huge amount of work to maintain and enhance our iconic Welsh landscapes, encourage wildlife, improve soil and water quality and reduce our climate impacts.
“Farmers have a unique perspective on the farmed environment because they see and manage the whole picture on a day to day basis; optimising environmental outcomes whilst producing safe, affordable and traceable food is key.”
Addressing conference attendees, Mr Davies outlined that while farmers took their environmental responsibilities extremely seriously, with countless examples of good practise across Wales, the industry could still make improvements to further increase its green credentials.
He added: “As an industry I am clear there is more we can do. Our aspiration to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions for agriculture by 2040 is just one statement of our commitment to the environment and addressing the big global challenges we all face. Today’s conference was aimed at starting a new conversation about how we, as farmers, can be enabled to do that.
“I am clear this has to be done on the basis of evidence, on the development of a shared understanding and through collaboration and genuine partnership.
“It needs to be done on the development of an approach that recognises and respects that farmers have a unique knowledge and perspective on the farmed environment and also a special contribution to make in its ongoing management and enhancement going forward.
“We are up for the challenge and ready to work in partnership to deliver the outcomes we all want to see, in line with our ambition to become globally recognised as leaders in sustainable agriculture underpinning economic, environmental, social and cultural well-being in Wales and delivering for our economy, our rural communities, the environment and society.”
Following Mr Davies’ opening comments, Brecon & Radnorshire AM Kirsty Williams then provided a speech before Natural Resources Wales Interim Chairman addressed the audience.
The first panel discussion of the day featured a presentations and debate from Dr Prysor Williams, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Management at Bangor University; Sue Evans, Director of Game Wildlife Conservation Trust Cymru; Caroline Mason Head of Agriculture at Co-op; Katie-Jo Luxton, Director of RSPB Cymru; and Geraint Davies, Member of NRW Board.
The afternoon session featured contributions from NFU Cymru members including livestock farmers Alex Higgs, Guto Davies and Harri Parri; potato farmer Walter Simon; and dairy farmers William Lawrence and Deputy President Aled Jones.