Having been brought up on a poultry farm and having the honour of representing a constituency with farmers its whole length, from Gogarth to Ysbyty Ifan, championing rural communities and Wales is a matter close to my heart.

During the last Senedd I was abundantly clear that Wales should have post-Brexit policy in place which places food security and food production at the heart of Welsh Government decision-making.

I was clear that we could be backing food production in Wales by extending the shelf life for Welsh lamb so that it can be even more internationally competitive. At present the Welsh average is 36.5 days, whilst New Zealand has achieved up to 110 days for CO2 gas flushed lamb.

READ MORE: Welsh farming leaders hit out at New Zealand trade deal

And since then, I have added to my pro-production campaign by championing the cause of Welsh abattoirs by asking the Minister for Rural Affairs to take a lead on putting a strategy in place to see as many as possible licenced to handle pigs.

I am pro-business, so I want policies in place which supports farmers to continue farming.

Such action would not threaten the environment.

A study from Bangor University found Welsh sheep and beef farms using non-intensive methods have among the lowest greenhouse gas emissions of comparable systems globally.

And it has yet been proven to me that it is more climate friendly to have further reliance on food imports instead of Welsh produce.

READ MORE: Farmers have a role to play in helping the environment

I am clear that the Welsh Government is pursuing an approach to rural Wales which will see a decline in production and increase in reliance on imports.

A key example is the handling of the policy to plant 43,000 hectares of new trees by 2030, rising to 180,000 hectares by 2050.

NFU Cymru have calculated that an additional 180,000 hectares of trees would require the complete afforestation of 3,750 Welsh family farms.

Whilst I am all for tree planting, we must take steps to ensure that the right tree is planted in the right place.

Unfortunately, what we are already seeing is farms being bought up to be plastered with trees.

FUW receive almost weekly reports of whole farms or parcels of land being bought up by individuals and businesses for the purpose of tree planting.

In fact, it has even been alleged to me that BA has bought land here too.

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If the Senedd does not act soon it could be to late to turn the tide which is moving against individuals and families who want to rent or own land to actually farm.

Last month Jeremy Miles MS, Minister for Education and Welsh Language, advised that meeting woodland creation targets should not affect communities nor change the type of landowners, and that he would take action if evidence develops that there is a problem.

The proof is piling.

Valleys are shifting to vegetation.

Forests are forcing out farmers.

READ MORE: Powys farmer's £15,000 fine for planting trees on own land

So last week I called on the Minister to work with the Minister for Climate Change to establish a Just Transition Commission to ensure the burden of decarbonisation does not fall unequally on our rural communities and have a negative impact on the historically thriving Welsh language in rural Wales.

I welcome the fact that he is having discussions with the Minister and Deputy Minister for Climate Change in relation to this matter, but the question many of us are asking is ‘when will we have any safeguards in place?’

I know that the Welsh Government are look at alternative financing models to be able to keep the control and ownership locally and we heard calls in the Senedd last week for use of the planning system.

I believe that we need to look at licencing and agree with NFU Cymru that a decision-making framework is needed to guide planting decisions, especially for large scale planting to ensure the area is appropriate for trees recognising the importance of food production now and in the future as well as the well-being of rural communities.

Clearly, there are measures that can be taken to help address the situation, and I want the people of Wales to have their say.

The Commission I have called for could:

  • undertake meaningful engagement with those most likely to be impacted;
  • engage and collaborate with other sources of expertise;
  • advise on the most suitable approaches;
  • and publish an annual report to show progress on ensuring that achieving Net Zero 2050 does not have a detrimental impact on rural communities.

I am hearted that there seems to be cross-party will to achieve action.

You can be sure that I will do my utmost to champion food security and food production, and therefore try to stop farmers and farming communities from being felled by trees.

Janet Finch-Saunders is the Member of the Senedd for Aberconwy and is the Shadow Minister for Climate Change.

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