Farm subsidies, food security, and the future of farming

Farm subsidies, food security, and the future of farming

Our Membership Manager, Linda Christofferson, talks about the big issues raised at the Farmers Weekly Question Time event, held at the Welsh Winter Fair. 
Farmers Weekly Question Time event held at the Welsh Winter Fair.
From left: Professor Glyn Hewison, Llyr Gruffydd, Johann Tasker, Anne-Marie Harries, Aled Jones and Kim Waters.
Farmers Weekly Question Time event at the Welsh Winter Fair.
From left: Professor Glyn Hewison, Llyr Gruffydd, Johann Tasker, Anne-Marie Harries, Aled Jones and Kim Waters.

Along with other members of TIAH, I recently attended the Welsh Winter Fair to support Farmers Weekly with their current Question Time series.  

The evening was chaired by Farmers Weekly podcast and projects editor Johann Tasker and on the panel were:

  • Professor Glyn Hewison, Sêr Cymru Chair
  • Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru
  • Aled Jones, NFU Cymru President
  • Anne-Marie Harries, Business Owner at Farmers Food at Home
  • Kim Waters, Founder of NFP Welsh River Unions

Should We Scrap Farm Subsidies?

The conversation started immediately with a pointed question, 'should we just scrap farm subsidies rather than keep discussing it’?

Aled Jones jumped in first to talk about having to be competitive and pointing out that many nations have some support to ensure quality food comes at an affordable price. And with that in mind, we may never get away fully from subsidies.

Llyr Gruffydd agreed, highlighting other sectors which were heavily subsidised and adding that we shouldn’t be coy or embarrassed by it. And Kim Waters said he wanted to see more support because sustainable farming would only be possible with subsidies.

Incidentally, Johann asked the audience if anyone thought we should just scrap farm subsidies. The audience unanimously agreed that they should be kept.

The importance of a robust supply chain

Next, the panel discussed the need to communicate the significance of a strong supply chain for food security. Aled reiterated the public's support for agriculture, with 82% of respondents in a recent survey favouring public funding for the sector.

Anne-Marie Harries added that people were interested in where their food came from, that it had low food miles and that the quality was there. She felt it was really important to communicate the process. Llyr said local economies were like leaky buckets and the government had a role to play. Policies relating to food production did not align with the policies relating to the environment. These policies must work hand in hand. Llyr said he didn’t see it as one issue or the other.

Addressing the TB challenge

As a leading expert in bovine tuberculosis for nearly 30 years, Glyn Hewison had a lot to say on this subject. He shared that genome sequencing was giving new insights into how TB spreads into new areas.

He went on to say that TB was a very complex issue and different approaches worked in different regions so, while culling was the answer for some, he had evidence to show it did work everywhere.

His suggestion was to focus on what we can do, not what we can’t, and that there is no silver bullet to tackle the spread of TB. The discussion then looked at whether being TB free in its current definition is achievable and whether a better definition was needed. The disease had already caused so much human distress and, in some cases, death.

“Where are the opportunities for young farmers?”

The whole panel were positive and optimistic when answering this question, essentially saying that by 2050 we needed to feed more than 10 billion people and so the need to get young, bright, brilliant people into this sector was vital.

There was a general plea to invest in young farmers to encourage them to innovate as adaptability will need to come into play over the coming years. You cannot guarantee the food we have today is the food we’ll have next year when you consider things like climate, costs, etc.

“Does the panel think Wales should be covered in trees?”

Trees or no trees is not the debate – it’s too polarising with the panel advocating for a balanced approach. What is needed is planning and funding. Trees are needed to combat winter flooding but no-one likes the ‘you must’ diktat. As ever, a sensible and well-planned use of trees policy is needed that supports sustainability as well as supports food production.

Lessons for English farmers

The evening ended with a question from a Wiltshire farmer who asked: “Is there anything English farmers can learn from Welsh farmers?”

As you can imagine the room erupted at that point and it was a great way for the Question Time event to come to a close. The best answer to that question seemed to be that there was something in their strong sense of community and the 'loud and proud' attitude of Welsh farmers, fostering a sense of camaraderie and resilience.

Overall, the Farmer's Weekly Question Time event at the Welsh Winter Fair provided a valuable platform for discussing the critical issues shaping the future of agriculture. The panellists' diverse perspectives and insights shed light on the challenges and opportunities facing farmers, consumers, and policymakers as they navigate the evolving landscape of food production and sustainability.

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