AN AMBITIOUS new target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 will lead to significant changes in farming practices over the coming decades, according to a leading agri-environment specialist.
Professor Iain Donnison, Head of the Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University, was responding to the publication of ‘Net Zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming’ published by the UK Government Committee on Climate Change.
Professor Donnison is an expert on agriculture and land use, which feature in the report in terms of targets for one-fifth of agricultural land to be used for forestry, bioenergy crops and peatland restoration.
According to Professor Donnison, such a reduction is very ambitious but achievable in Wales and the wider UK. “Land use can positively contribute towards achieving the net zero targets, but there are challenges in relation to emissions from agriculture especially associated with red meat and dairy,” said Professor Donnison.
“In IBERS we are already working on how to make livestock agriculture less carbon intensive and developing new diversification options for the farming of carbon. For example, net zero targets could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”
Professor Donnison added: “The report gives a clear message regarding the importance of the task and the role that the UK can play to compensate for past emissions and to help play a leadership role in creating a greener future.
“The report says it seeks to be based on current technologies that can be deployed and achievable targets. One-fifth of agricultural land is a very ambitious target but I believe that through the approaches proposed it is achievable (e.g. for bioenergy crops it fits in with published targets for the UK). This is based on the knowledge and technologies we have now regarding how to do this, and because right now in the UK we are developing a new agricultural policy that looks beyond the common agriculture policy (CAP). For example, the 25-year Environment plan published by Defra envisages payment for public goods which could provide a policy mechanism to help ensure that the appropriate approaches are implemented in the appropriate places.
“The scale of the change, however, should not be underestimated, although agriculture is a sector that has previously successfully responded to challenges such as for increased food production. The additional challenge will be to ensure that we deliver all the benefits we wish to see from land: food, carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) management and wider environmental benefits, whilst managing the challenge of the impacts of climate change.
“The link is made between healthy diets with less red meat consumption and future reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. This reflects that agriculture will likely go through significant change over the coming decades as a result of changes in consumer diets.
“Net Zero targets, however, could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”
Data does not support WG on agri-pollution
NFU CYMRU continues to stress that any decision by the Welsh Government on future water-quality regulations must be made based on the available evidence, science and a robust impact assessment.
The proposed new regulations, expected to be announced imminently, could see the whole of Wales designated as a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone as laid out in the EU Nitrates Directive, with all farmers required to follow the NVZ Action Programme. The regulations if implemented will impact every farm, every sector and every area of Wales and are contributing considerably to high levels of stress and anxiety within the farming community at, what is already an exceedingly difficult time.
NFU Cymru has continually lobbied against the introduction of an all-Wales NVZ approach.
The union is increasingly concerned that perception of the scale of agricultural pollution in Wales does not appear to be based on water quality and agricultural pollution data. On the contrary, data gathered between 2001 and 2018 shows no discernible trend upward or downward in the number of agricultural pollution incidents in Wales.
However, the Welsh Government continues to claim that agricultural pollution incidents are on the rise when they are not.
Last week, in a Welsh Assembly Plenary session The First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, in response to a question from Conservative leader Paul Davies AM, claimed pollution incidents are ‘growing’.
NFU Cymru members have raised their concerns on the impact of an all-Wales NVZ with the First Minister during a meeting of NFU Cymru’s ruling body, Welsh Council, on Monday 20th January. NFU Cymru has also written to the First Minister of Wales to further underline the evidence and has requested an urgent meeting to discuss the union’s concerns over the proposed regulations in greater detail.
NFU Cymru President John Davies said: “We are deeply concerned that decisions, which will have far-reaching implications for every farm business in Wales, are being influenced by misconceptions around the scale and extent of the issue. We cannot emphasise enough how important it is that the true picture of agricultural pollution is understood and effectively communicated by the government.
“It has not escaped our notice that precisely the same time that the UK will be leaving the EU, Welsh Government remains on course to lay regulation to transcribe to the letter one of the worst and most damaging requirements of European Union law.
“NFU Cymru is clear, based on water quality and agricultural pollution data, a whole Wales NVZ approach cannot be justified. There is also scant evidence to show that NVZs are effective. Indeed, the unintended environmental consequences are likely to greatly outweigh the environmental benefits whilst also exposing farm businesses to unnecessary additional costs. The impact on Welsh farm businesses and our rural communities will be significant at a time when we should be looking for an ambitious approach from the government for our Welsh food and drink industry. NFU Cymru categorically rejects the all-Wales NVZ approach as a result.
“NFU Cymru is not defending the status quo. As farmers, we take our environmental responsibilities very seriously.
“Over many years, we have worked to put in place the framework that allows farmers to take action to improve water quality where this is needed. We accept that a regulatory backstop may be needed but this must recognise and take account of the regulation that is already operational in this sphere and it must be evidence-based, proportionate to the risk and targeted to areas where water quality improvements are required.
“We hope the government will be prepared to listen to our concerns and work with us to secure a better outcome than the NVZ approach before it is too late. I would urge the Welsh Government to take some further time to ensure that the correct decision is made given the serious ramifications of this regulation.”
£500k boost for agricultural infrastructure
HALF A MILLION POUNDS of new funding has been announced to support digital infrastructure investments by eligible livestock auction markets, collection centres and abattoirs in Wales.
The funding, which will be made available to small and medium-sized businesses and administered through Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) has been awarded by the Welsh Government as part of moves to further strengthen and simplify digital animal traceability through a single multi-species database.
Over the next three months, from February 1, eligible businesses which serve as Central Point Recording Centres (CPRCs) can apply for funding to upgrade their digital infrastructure. This will allow increased use of technology, and support the required future introduction of Bovine Electronic Identification alongside the similar successful system for sheep, which is administered by HCC’s subsidiary company EIDCYMRU on behalf of the Welsh Government.
Once Bovine EID Tags are introduced, cattle can be scanned and the data transferred to a tablet or PC and uploaded to EIDCymru. CPRCs, therefore, play a central role in a robust system of animal traceability which gives consumers confidence and allows swift action to be taken in case of an outbreak of animal disease.
The Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths said: “We are pleased to announce funding to help a significant number of small and medium-sized businesses which are important to the rural economy in Wales in their capacity as CPRCs.
“This funding will offer the support needed to upgrade IT infrastructure, allowing for the increased use of technology to further strengthen Wales’s already robust system of animal traceability.
“Our announcement will provide an innovative solution to some of the potential issues which could deter some facilities from operating in the future. Supporting CPRCs to embrace technology will also help make the next generation of farmers entering the sector aware of the advantages of EID in managing livestock.”
Gwyn Howells, Chief Executive of HCC, added, “This funding is a significant investment for the industry. It will help a range of businesses to access the latest technology which will streamline the process of reporting animal movements, and add to the resilience and sustainability of the whole sector.”
Cow DNA secures conviction
DYFED-POWYS Police has become the first police force in the UK to use DNA evidence from a stolen cow in a criminal court case.
The force used DNA from a £3,000 heifer, which had been retagged by a neighbouring farmer after escaping from a field, to prove it had been stolen.
The blood samples were compared against cows on the victim’s farm to prove a familial link and secure a conviction.
David Aeron Owens, of Salem Road, St Clears, pleaded guilty to theft at Swansea Crown Court on Monday, February 3.
PC Gareth Jones, the officer in the case, said: “This has been a long and protracted enquiry, and it has taken a lot of work and patience to get to this point.
“Without the use of the heifer’s DNA, we would not have been able to prove that it had been stolen by Mr Owens and that he had tried to alter identification tags to evade prosecution.
“We are proud to be the first force in the UK to use a cow’s DNA in a criminal case, and will continue to use innovative methods to get justice for victims.”
The investigation started in December 2017, when a farmer in St Clears reported the theft of one of his 300 cows which had escaped from his field four months earlier.
Mr Owens had denied the missing animal was on his land, but the victim recognised it among the herd.
PC Jones visited the farm and was handed a cow passport, listing ear tag numbers for the cow in question and the animal Mr Owens alleged was its mother.
PC Jones applied for a warrant to seize the stolen cow, which was separated from the herd and had blood samples taken for DNA comparison.
“Under advice from the Animal Plant Health Agency, and due to regulations about moving cows, the disputed animal remained on Mr Owens’ farm,” PC Jones said. “He agreed to look after it on behalf of the police.
“It was established through DNA tests that the heifer listed on the cow passport was not related to the disputed cow.”
Arrangements were made for further samples to be taken by a vet, which were compared with a cow on the victim’s farm.
They were proven to be siblings and based on the DNA results, CPS authorised charges against Mr Owens. He was summonsed to court and pleaded guilty to theft.
This is the first time DNA blood from a heifer has been used in relation to a criminal court case.
PC Jones said: “I must thank the victim in this case for the determination shown in wanting to see justice being done. It has been a long investigation, but we hope he is satisfied with the outcome.
“What this case shows us is that where the farming community works with the police, reporting crimes and providing us with vital information, we can be successful in taking out prosecutions.
“I echo comments made by the judge, who said Mr Owens, as a farmer, would be well aware of the need for a level of trust in the rural community. In committing these offences, he has played a part in breaking down that trust, which will be difficult to build back up.”
During the criminal investigation, Mr Owens started his own proceedings against Dyfed-Powys Police over the way blood samples were taken from the cow as he had not been willing for this to happen.
A judicial review found the force was lawful in obtaining blood samples from the animal.
Mr Owens was sentenced to a £4,000 fine and must pay £400 costs.
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