THE FUW has recently responded to the Welsh Government’s Call for Evidence on a ‘Just Transition to Net Zero’, writes FUW president Glyn Roberts.

It was an opportunity for the union to highlight the impacts and opportunities of reaching Net Zero for the agricultural sector, and lobby for mitigations and support. 

It is well documented how climate change and decarbonisation could impact more on those already living in poverty and further exacerbate inequalities, so a natural question to ask is how it could impact our own sector, businesses and families, and what route we should take? 

The challenge (and opportunity) of reaching that goal for agriculture lies in how interlinked farming is to so many other environmental, economic and social issues.

Agriculture’s pathway to Net Zero will impact on people’s health, their diets, the economic viability of farming businesses, biodiversity, rural economies, trade deals, the skills to manage land, soil, the price of food and land, how much carbon can be sequestered, wildlife recovery and our impacts overseas from imported food or agricultural products. 

The other challenge comes from having to manage complex biological systems, therefore farming businesses have to consider multiple greenhouse gases - Methane, Nitrous Oxide and Carbon Dioxide emissions which all have different weightings in emission calculations due to their different warming effects.

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This is a very different decision making process in comparison to a manufacturer, who generally speaking, only needs to consider the fossil fuels used in their energy use, and their competitiveness in the commercial marketplace.

Take for example trade deals and industry regulation - they can have a big effect on farming's competitiveness and therefore its ability to invest in, or change practices towards a Net Zero future. Farms are run as businesses and land-use decisions cannot be divorced from the economic needs or market influences that farming families experience. 

Therefore, if imported food produced to lower environmental and animal welfare standards is allowed to undercut Welsh produce, it simply displaces our production overseas and undermines our own industry’s efforts to achieve Net Zero. Government and supply chains must be held to account on this issue.

This is also true for policies which seek to reduce domestic consumption and production of meat and dairy, such as the Committee for Climate Change’s recommendation to reduce consumption by 20-40 per cent by 2050 despite the fact that 73 per cent of Britons class themselves as meat eaters.

We have been clear when speaking to the UK and Welsh Governments that they must consider what the environmental, social and nutritional impact of the alternatives are in people’s diets. 

Another tool in the Net Zero toolbox is increasing afforestation to remove carbon from the atmosphere, which will impact directly on farmers as over 80 per cent of the land in Wales is managed as farmland.

Targets include increasing woodland cover by 180,000 hectares (ha) (farmland covers 1.8 million ha in Wales), and expanding hedgerows, agro-forestry and timber production.

Of course, some types of afforestation can provide win-wins, whether from increased shade and shelter for livestock, improved biodiversity or improved revenue to farmers from grants or timber.

However, afforestation is also attracting private finance via carbon-offsetting schemes, creating a negative trade-off by reducing the incentive to reduce emissions.

This also has the potential to be detrimental to our food security and our global food responsibility, our rural communities, and the ability of young farmers and new entrants to access farmland here in Wales.

We have been clear on this issue - once trees are planted, particularly broadleaves not meant for harvest, there is limited economic activity and wealth generation that derives from them.

It is vitally important therefore that we identify and highlight trade-offs as well as the win-wins within agriculture and ensure policy makers, our customers, supply chains, and we ourselves consider the whole picture when making decisions to achieve Net Zero.