By Glyn Roberts, President, Farmers Union of Wales
From its inception in 1955, the Farmers’ Union of Wales has worked to ensure that we have thriving, sustainable, family farms in Wales. Indeed it is our mission to advance and protect Wales’ family farms, both nationally and individually. Why? Because we understand just how much farming matters.
The facts speak for themselves. 88 percent of our 2.1 million hectares of land is managed by farmers, it’s home to 16,500 farms and employs 60,000 people.
Farming creates jobs and economic growth in rural areas – helps keep our towns and villages alive, encourages rural culture and heritage and is the bedrock of the Welsh language. The Welsh food and drinks sector employs over 220,000 people – 17 percent of the Welsh workforce.
Indeed, Welsh family farms are the cornerstone of our rural economies and thousands of other businesses rely on farming – feed merchants, contractors and engineers, hauliers, processors and retailers to name just a few.
Our farmers preserve the landscape we all enjoy, provide clean drinking water, and encourage diversity of habitat and species on 1,000 Site of Special Scientific interest.
Other benefits delivered by farmers such as climate change mitigation contributions include storage of carbon in farm woodland, hedgerows and peat bogs. They are also actively involved in the generation of green electricity through on-farm wind and water turbines.
The sector helps reduce rural depopulation, protects rural culture and heritage and keeps the Welsh language alive.
But how many people appreciate the vital role agriculture plays in providing employment in non-farming sectors and keeping rural communities alive?
With all of this in mind, we can say that farming matters to more than just farmers. However, what future do we see for our rural communities? One thing we are certain of is this – if agriculture fails, so will our rural communities.
One way to support our farming community, and with that, all the other industries that rely on them is to ensure that farmers continue to receive direct support – something that is currently under review and could very well disappear.
In that respect, let’s take note of a study by the University of Kent in 2017. It found that the complete abolition of CAP payments without compensating/countervailing measures could result in around 250,000 non-farming jobs being lost across the UK.
The study, entitled ‘Employment effects of CAP payments in the UK non-farm economy’, found a net positive effect of the CAP payments on non-farm employment, and in particular, a strong positive relationship between direct payments and non-farm employment compared with Rural Development payments.
The academics behind the study conclude that the removal of CAP payments would also be likely to have rural development implications beyond employment lost, such as increasing rural depopulation – particularly in terms of young people seeking jobs outside farming – and reduced business efficiency due to reductions in the scale of operations for some small and medium-sized enterprises.
This study supports and helps quantify what the FUW has been highlighting for many years, which is that farms support significantly more non-farming businesses and jobs than many sometimes appreciate.
With so much at stake, it is essential that we use Brexit to create better functioning supply chains that fairly reward everyone; put in place policies that make up for market failure, and better target support in order to create a more prosperous Welsh economy.
We haven’t got a crystal ball to predict the future of our rural communities, but we do know what can be done to ensure it is a prosperous one.
Farmers’ Union of Wales