Picture: Nigel Pugh
Two sessions at the Wales Real Food and Farming Conference in November 2022 explore “land-sharing” – the use of farmland for more than one purpose. It means looking for different uses which complement each other and produce several products or outcomes.
In Wales we have acknowledged we are in a climate and nature emergency. This puts multiple pressures on the land, and we need to multi-task our way out of it, with urgency. The proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) can help do this.
Land-sharing includes the familiar practices of farm diversification and traditional mixed farming, with new opportunities to modify farming operations to reduce reliance on buying in inputs and applying practices such as agroforestry and on-farm energy generation more widely.
Agroforestry – using trees on farms – applies land sharing in support of food production. It diverts farms away from the treadmill of intensification through simplification, and the high dependence on expensive and polluting inputs that has favoured power and profits for middlemen. This has created uniform landscapes that contribute to, rather than alleviate, the climate and nature emergency.
The desire to reverse this loss of farm diversity was one of the motivations of the Pontbren farmers in their ground-breaking project in the 1990s. They decided to re-invest in trees and hedges for livestock shelter, better water management and watercourse protection.
This farmer-led initiative has inspired our Hedges and Edges approach, and our advocacy of this as a significant component of the universal tier of the SFS.
The conference panel discussion on “Sustainable farming and localised food systems” considers how we can be less reliant on imports of climate-vulnerable food and high-cost livestock feed, fertiliser, chemicals, and fossil fuels. Doing this improves the resilience of food and farming at home whilst helping us to be a Globally Responsible Wales, reducing the environmental, social and cultural damage that we export overseas.
Land-sharing is integral to meeting the four objectives of sustainable land management in the Wales Agriculture Bill and the SFS:
a) To produce food and other goods in a sustainable manner.
b) To mitigate and adapt to climate change.
c) To maintain and enhance the resilience of ecosystems and the benefits they provide.
d) To conserve and enhance the countryside and cultural resources, and promote public access to and engagement with them, and to sustain the Welsh language and promote and facilitate its use.
The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act requires that these four objectives are met in a balanced way that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
The panel discussion on “The power of trees” considers opportunities for increasing trees on farms through more agroforestry; how this could help meet the tree cover and habitat management thresholds for receipt of universal payments, without necessarily taking that land “out of production.”
They do this, for example, through the provision of shade and shelter, and products such as wood chip and bedding for on-farm use.
Trees fix and store carbon, and significantly contribute to aspirations to delivering net zero farm carbon budgets, whilst also delivering these other benefits.
Farming is facing great challenges in the face of climate change and the insecurity and volatility of external inputs. Using the natural resources of the farm – the soil, water, trees, and growth potential – in a wise and truly sustainable way is in everyone’s interest.
This transformation won’t be easy or cheap, and it is one that deserves substantive public support. It is our responsibility to address climate change now, and spare future generations far greater financial and human costs.
Policy Affairs Manager
Coed Cadw / Woodland Trust