Farmers’ Union of Wales members from Carmarthenshire and Union officials recently discussed critical climate change issues facing the agricultural industry with Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters MS.

Union officials acknowledged that given the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the role played by soils and plants in sequestering carbon is attracting significant attention, with a particular focus by the Welsh Government on planting trees.

FUW Carmarthen County Chairman Phil Jones said: “The FUW supports the overall aims of the Welsh Government with regards to environmental issues but we are concerned that a number of recent policy proposals to increase tree planting targets from 2000 hectares per year to 5000 ha/pa could see agricultural funding being diverted towards forestry and woodland with a lack of clarity on the consequences for Wales’ family farms and rural communities.”

Mr Jones added that farmers understand the important role trees play in mitigating climate change but that it was important to plant the right tree in the right place and that such initiatives have to work in partnership with farming communities across Wales. 

“There are many examples where afforestation by private companies has led to the loss of family farms, biodiversity losses and impacted negatively on the rural economy. We need to ensure that policy goals that we understand and support are not undermined by the delivery of such policies,” added Mr Jones. 

Members further discussed the issue of carbon trading and highlighted that offsetting carbon emissions through tree planting may represent a viable and somewhat profitable option for some farm businesses, yet most FUW members have expressed concern in regard to the potential for negative outcomes for land management. 

“Planting trees and selling carbon credits to businesses looking to offset their carbon emissions may represent a profitable option for some farmers. However, the same carbon cannot then be used to offset a farm’s own carbon emissions, and members are concerned that a rush to sell off carbon could hamper future farming generations’ ability to meet net-zero targets,” said FUW Deputy President Ian Rickman.  

Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power were also discussed, including the potential  impact on the sustainability of farming if productive land is taken out of circulation to achieve some of these targets.

“Whilst the FUW remains neutral in terms of the divisive issue of large-scale wind farms, we fully support the development of appropriate on-farm renewable energy sources, and maintain that Welsh farms have a central role to play in reaching Welsh targets.  We need to work together with the Welsh Government to ensure that  the correct support is available to achieve these shared aspirations,” added FUW Deputy President Ian Rickman.

Members highlighted that the grid capacity within the county was insufficient to deal with new generating  capacity and this needed to be improved to assist the development of alternative energy schemes.

“We also made the point that the abolition of Feed In Tariffs in 2019 led to a significant slowdown in on-farm investment into renewable energy sources, consequently weakening the environmental benefits associated with private initiatives and diminishing the momentum of reaching Welsh Government’s 2030 target,” said Phil Jones.

Union officials further asked Mr Waters to work with Ofgem and the UK Government to ensure the costs of connection to the National Grid by electricity companies are fair and proportionate. 

“We ask the Welsh Government to reintroduce attractive renewable energy production schemes and Feed In Tariffs which incentivise farmers to invest in schemes that will restore the previous growth in private renewable energy production.  We are also of the view that we need to  ensure that private renewable energy schemes are eligible for levels of business rate relief that will enhance the economic viability of  renewable energy production,” added Phil Jones.  

“We will continue to work with the Welsh Government to find a way of mitigating climate change in a manner that also supports family farms and the economic viability of  rural communities.  We thank Mr Waters for meeting with us to discuss these very complex issues and hope for continued positive discussions with the Minister and Welsh Government” concluded Mr Jones.