Environment and Rural Affairs

Welsh agriculture and the global climate: Green Thumbs to Green Future

Farming has long played a valuable role in Welsh culture, economy and heritage, a beacon of resilience in the quest to overcome the obstacles that come before us. A recent publication from NFU Cymru focused my attention to the part Wales can play in a green recovery, I feel it is vital that we understand how Welsh agriculture operates and is to move forwards writes Tobias Read.

The NFU Cymru and NFU have together set a target for net zero Agri greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2040, 10 years in advance of the Welsh governments 2050 target. Nationally the agricultural sector in the UK accounts for 10% of GHG emissions however the predominate released gas differs from other major sectors as its main discharges are largely nitrogen or methane based rather than carbon dioxide.

Agriculture holds a distinctive opportunity for green recovery being both a GHG sink and emitter, while it produces Methane (CH4), Nitrous Oxide (No2) and Carbon dioxide (Co2) it also sequesters these gasses in production processes. Therefore, there is an opening to stimulate negative emissions from changed and improved agricultural practices. Wales may not represent much in the way of potential land management changes due to its geography and land use, meaning nitrogen discharges may be more difficult to lessen via reducing soil disturbance and altering fertilisers that promote crop growth, there are still key changes to be made. According to a report by Aberystwyth University in 2014 it was found that in the UK the agricultural sector is responsible for up to 38% of methane emissions with 85% of this being from livestock gas secretions such as burping.

The capture of carbon and increasing links with the energy sector might provide solace for some struggling Welsh farms by diversifying income while providing resources for renewable energy projects. Waste such as manure is rich in methane, nitrogen, and carbon. Burning products such as these presents an opportunity to sustainably fire energy production, the combustion of methane creates Co2 and Water, carbon from this process can be sequestered while water may be returned to provide further utility or back to the natural water cycle.

However, use of biological waste must be done in balance, as the sector should be careful to maintain its natural fertilisers such as dung in its farming practices if it isn’t to trigger an increased demand for the manufacture of engineered nitrogen based products. In the Welsh Arable sector waste products such as stalks and leaves can be used in biofuel projects where it will not interfere with common farming practices such as use of straw for livestock bedding. This highlights how there cannot be a one size fits all farm’s approach as the circumstances of each individual vary greatly, yet the general principles of altered farming practices can be shared.

The cost of changes therefore needs to be financially and research supported to make economic sense for all sizes of farm holdings. Undoubtedly this will require cooperation between many shareholders including; NGOs, research groups, farmers and government agencies. Wales is situated to promote a green future for farming and potentially cash in while doing so, the sector and the Welsh Government need to take a lead in the green recovery and the future of green agriculture.

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