Farmers are fighting back at claims their industry is a major contributor to climate change with a campaign to highlight the positive impacts they make on the environment.

The Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) is running the Guardians of the Welsh Land campaign throughout June with the intention of combating what it considers misleading claims about the impact of farming and industry practices.

“The campaign is to address increasingly misleading claims by the media, politicians and other anti-meat lobby groups about the role livestock farming plays in relation to climate change and pollution,” said the union’s deputy president Ian Rickman.

“There is no question in our mind that we need to counteract the continuation by the anti-farming lobby of their campaign to vilify and belittle domestic food producers. These attacks are corrosive, negatively influencing consumer perception of the industry and influencing political agendas on a global scale.”

Environmental campaigners have highlighted a wide range of concerns over farming, especially livestock farming, ranging from land use to consumption of fossil fuels and contribution to greenhouse gasses, though some of the science is disputed.

Farming unions point out agriculture accounts for 10 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, and feel the industry is unfairly targeted and highlighted. The biggest contributor, in the UK, is transport at 27 per cent while energy supply accounts for 24 per cent and 15 per cent of emissions are attributed to residential properties.

In Wales the Welsh Government is also introducing tough new measures to limit the use of slurry and fertiliser on farmland with the intention to protect watercourses and prevent agricultural pollution incidents. The government says, on average, three agricultural pollution incidents a week kill fish and other wildlife in Wales.

The FUW wants to highlight that Welsh agriculture is dominated by small to medium-sized farms and show the simple, practical day to day practices that make a positive contribution to the environment.

It is also clear that red meat production has a future in sustainable farming with global policy influencers pushing for massive reduction in global meat consumption of 50 per cent by 2040.

Mr Rickman, who farms sheep near Llangadog in Carmarthenshire, said: “The FUW has consistently recognised the threat represented by climate change and the need to take action. This is clear from a cursory look at our manifestos and policy documents published over the past 20 years.

“We understand that Welsh farmers have delivered positive environmental outcomes for the nation for centuries, and as such must be fairly rewarded for what they have already delivered, continue to deliver and will deliver in the future.

“Future targets must work alongside sustainable and viable food producing businesses, not against, to ensure the environment continues to be managed appropriately.”

A new agricultural policy in Wales is under development due to Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, which has shaped UK farming for nearly 50 years, while world leaders will discuss potential environmental policies at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, later this year, and at the forthcoming UN Food Summit.

Farming unions fear a further push towards plant-based diets, and laboratory meats, could emerge. In Wales there is also concern that farming policy will place more emphasis on environmental management, which the Welsh Government recognises as a public good it will financially reward farmers for, than food production.

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The FUW wants direct financial support provided to farmers for food production and says this will benefit local communities and economies due to the traditional scale of Welsh agriculture.

Among the small family farms highlighted in the campaign is Pantfeillionen at Horeb near Llandysul in Ceredigion run by Lyn and Lowri Thomas.

The couple have 70 dairy cows, a few sucklers and calves which are sold on as store cattle, and farm 170 acres, with a further 100 acres rented, and believe in the small-scale ethos with customers buying raw milk directly from the farm.

Lyn says: “We do all our own silage and everything is done in house. We don’t use a lot of fertilizer, some yes, but we can’t use too much because of the nature of the ground. We’re farming on rock so that means we need to be careful otherwise our grass would burn on the south facing slopes.

“There’s not a lot of topsoil here so we have to use some fertiliser to keep the grass growing but usually no more than a bag an acre is used for silage with some slurry. We don’t go overboard with slurry. Slurry is restricted to about 1,700 to 2,000 gallons an acre.”

Lyn says cattle numbers are kept down to reduce the need for fertiliser: “We could keep more stock but then we’d need more fertiliser and more food for the cows. I’d rather not do that. We have about 0.8 cows per acre here, which is below average. But with more stock to feed, we’d have to reseed the grass more often.

“I haven’t reseeded a field here in seven years and then it was only because it was old ground when we bought it. It’s still going and we have grass here that’s been going for 25 years. So that’s storing a fair bit of carbon.

"We aerate the fields, cut slots in to drain the water off and keep fertiliser application to a minimum – it all helps to maintain a healthy environment and soil that stores tonnes of carbon.”

The raw milk by the bottle business started with neighbours asking if they could buy prompting the couple to register with the Food Standards Agency and local authority.

"We started on a small scale and low-key way to help build the business up gradually. We know all of our customers, and didn’t install a vending machine on purpose,” said Lowri.

“We want to know who our customers are and speak to them and it’s good for them to know who we are as well. It gives us a chance to explain how we farm and look after the environment and the cows. When Covid hit last year, people became more aware of where their food was coming from and what was around them. We picked up more customers through that as well.”

Hedging and tree planting on the farm has also boosted wildlife with kites, buzzards, owls, herons, woodpeckers, bats, frogs and foxes, rabbits and badgers as well as deer inhabiting the hedgerows and land that can’t be accessed with hedge cutters.

“A lot of the information put out now is referring to farming on a global level. Large scale and intensive farming. And in some parts of the world that’s true. But our farming systems here in Wales are different – we farm with the environment,” says Lyn.

“You’ve still got your traditional small family farms, looking after the land. Because if you look after the land the land looks after you. That’s an important distinction. People also need to ask where their food comes from and how it’s produced and farmers in Wales have a great story to tell.”

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The National is running its first Environmental Awards to celebrate the best green practices and climate-action projects across Wales.

The awards will shine a spotlight on the individuals, companies and organisations doing outstanding work to protect the environment and tackle climate change.

Find more information on the criteria and how to nominate here

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