Picture: Soil Association

Soil Association’s Head of Farming in Wales, Haydn Evans, talks to us about some of the major issues facing organic farming in Wales.

Welsh farm policy is evolving to life outside of CAP, what is your vision for organic in Wales?

Wales has an excellent opportunity to increase the concentration of organic land. At one point Welsh organic land represented 10% of the overall land mass.

The double challenge of Covid and Brexit will see an opportunity for organic expansion, nowhere more so than in horticulture and top fruit.

To be successful it will need to have a clearly defined market, both local nationally and internationally, together with smaller supply chains and a better presence of local abattoirs.

We’ll also need increased levels of transparency and fairness in the supply chain to allow farmers and growers to receive a fair remuneration.

Many markets already exist outside the EU. We need expertise and funding to help expand in the future.

Outside the EU, what market opportunities are there for organic in Wales?

Organic farming by definition supplies a bundle of public goods within a legally defined context.  It is important that when a new agricultural scheme is implemented to replace the CAP that this adequately remunerates organic farmers.  Carbon sequestration, clean air reduced pesticide use and greater biodiversity are just some of the examples.

A Wales that can deliver highly on such public goods will enhance a sustainable brand value that the Welsh Government sees as integral to their food and drink strategy.  The EU Farm to Fork strategy wants 25% of EU land converted to organic by 2030 and Welsh Government need to be equally ambitious.

I recently attended a FABulous Farmers (European Programme to support the adoption of practices to improve functional agricultural biodiversity on farm) meeting where a group of farmers in Wales are setting up an agroforestry group to learn more about the practice.  This is new to many in the group, but interest levels were high.

What role can organic play in ammonia emissions from agriculture?

Ammonia emissions in Wales have been going the wrong way for some time.  Natural Resources Wales has recently promulgated a consultation document on this precise issue.  Recent Defra stats showed that 81% of ammonia emissions are related to slurry and when bound to other particulates are dangerous for human health. The key determinants are the farming system, the animal’s diet and the management system.  Organic farmers are in a good position in that their animals must be allowed access to grazing and have a diet of a minimum of 60% forage.  The management of farmyard manures (such as composting) is also vitally important.

The Welsh Government must set the right framework to meet emissions reduction targets in a cost-effective way and to project the environment and human health.

Welsh Parliament elections will be held in May 2021. What do you want to see from the parties?

Next year’s Senedd elections provide an opportunity for all political parties to set out their road map for agriculture going forward.

I would like all the parties to understand what organic farming delivers for consumers and the environment.

There should be a commitment to funding the public goods delivered by organic farmers and supplementary support around key areas such as innovation, research and market development.  Education and training are critical.

This all needs to be consistent with an overall organic vision, as funding will probably be linked to a parliamentary term.

Haydn Evans

Soil Association