As part of our exploration of Brexit and future agricultural policy, we invited Alicia Miller and Nathan Richards to give a personal, farming perspective on the situation in Wales.
My husband, Nathan Richards, and I have been farming in Wales for more than ten years now. Troed y Rhiw Organics is a mixed farm with organic horticulture as its focus. The farm is located in the coastal belt of Cardigan Bay, so we benefit from its slightly warmer micro-climate and our crops are often early. Like every farmer, everywhere, we struggle with the weather, which is definitely getting weirder, wilder and more intense. But so far, our business is thriving – we run a vegetable box scheme which has grown significantly in the last two years and do a local market once a week in Newport, Pembrokeshire, as well as selling to local shops and restaurants. While keeping in the black is always challenging, more recently, it’s felt just an iota easier.
We’ve felt really fortunate to set up our business in Wales. The Welsh Assembly Government takes the country’s farming seriously and recognises its importance and value to the country. There is a lot of support for farmers and we’ve really benefitted from that. One of the first things we did at Troed y Rhiw was to convert a derelict stone barn dating back to the 18th Century into two holiday lets, giving us an important income stream to support the base farm income. We received a significant Single Investment Fund grant to support this and Menter a Busnes worked with us to do the financial projections for the build – vital assistance as neither Nathan nor I had much business training. We’ve also been helped by Farming Connect which run a great programme of farmer support – we’ve had free soil samples and advice, been to various seminars on business planning and skills development that have been super useful and had an hours consultation with a planning expert on expanding an aspect of our business. I’m currently in their Rural Leadership Programme which is fantastic – it’s designed to give you skills both to promote your business but also to be an active voice in farming, working to raise awareness of farming issues and shaping the sector. The more recent Tyfu Cymru initiative supporting horticulture has also offered support in training and networking, and hopefully it will help expand the ranks of growers in Wales.
When the consultation on Brexit and our Land opened up, Nathan and I worked with the Land Workers Alliance Cymru (Nathan is an active member), Food Manifesto (which I’m involved in developing), and Social Farms and Gardens to coordinate a unified response to the proposals. One of our key concerns was separation of the funding into two strands – one focused on sustainability and one on economic resilience. The problematics of this were immediately apparent to all of us – economic resilience had to be linked to sustainability if the policy was to be cohesive. It’s no good giving support to farmers’ economic resilience if that resilience isn’t based on sustainability. If the two strands weren’t married, the desperate need to make farming practices more sustainable could not be realised. While we argued this in the response, we didn’t really think that this would be taken on board by the Welsh Assembly.
As small-scale organic farmers, we’ve felt frustrated over the years that more attention hasn’t been afforded to us. The annual Single Application Form (SAF) by which we apply for our subsidies is designed for larger-scale farmers and trying to map a field which is full of a variety of different crops that are part of a rotation has not been easy (though since the introduction of the sketching tool, it’s much easier). But we feel that things are really starting to change. Seeing the proposals in Sustainable Farming and our Land was really heartening – that Government listened to the call that sustainability must be at the forefront of farming.
Nathan recently sat down with grower Tom O’Kane, farmer Gerald Miles and the LWA Cymru’s policy person Holly Tomlinson and others at Cae Tan to feedback to civil servants who wanted to know about our businesses, the value of agroecological farming and why growing vegetables in Wales is important. The country has for so long been known for its meat production, that its vegetable production has been overlooked, even dismissed. But there are increasing numbers of small-scale growers in Wales – many operating as Community Supported Agriculture operations – who are selling direct, feeding their local communities and making a living whilst also caring for the sustainability of their land.
While Nathan and I feel really positive about the changes in Welsh agriculture coming in, it’s still possible it could all go up in smoke if the UK crashes out of EU at the end of October. Then, the pressure to secure trading partners could result in throwing all concern for sustainability out the window. But if by some chance we end up remaining in the EU, we may find ourselves stuck within the structure of the CAP. Wales really needs to be able to map its own way forward, guided by the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act which is focused on a broad-based approach to sustainable development. The precedent set by this Act ensures that sustainability permeates not only agriculture but the long-term “economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales” and that is deeply hopeful.
Sign up to our Newsletter
Stay up to date with the latest SFT views and news