Welsh Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths visited Patrick Holden founder and chief executive of the Sustainable Food Trust at his organic dairy farm Bwlchwernen Fawr in West Wales on Thursday 6th September.

In July, the Cabinet Secretary launched a consultation on Brexit and our land: Securing the future of Welsh farming that proposes a new Land Management Programme to replace the Common Agriculture Policy in Wales once the UK leaves the European Union.

During the visit the Cabinet Secretary toured the farm and discussed the future of Welsh farming with Patrick Holden, including his thoughts on the consultation, and the issues facing him as a farmer and small business owner.

Bwlchwernen Fawr is the longest running organic dairy farm in Wales. Established in 1973, this 320 acre mixed organic farm is run by Patrick and Rebecca Holden. The Ayrshire dairy herd has now expanded to around 80 cows and additional young stock, many of which are descended from the original 30 cows that Patrick Holden purchased in 1973. As part of the farm’s commitment to sustainable principles, it uses crop rotations, including legumes (especially clovers), and holistic grazing to build soil fertility. No chemical fertilisers or pesticides have been used in 45 years.

Patrick and Rebecca Holden believe that their farm represents a template that could be adopted more widely to help reduce the impact of farming and food on greenhouse gas emissions, increase biodiversity and improve public health.

Patrick Holden, who is also founder and chief executive of the Sustainable Food Trust, said: “We need to encourage the adoption of more sustainable farming practice at scale if we are to avoid irreversible climate change, biodiversity destruction and food related ill health. Currently, through no fault of their own, some of the most profitable farms in Wales are not operating in the public interest, as they are causing damage to the environment and public health. The post-Brexit policy challenge is to create a new policy framework for farming that shifts the balance of economic advantage to farmers who adopt more sustainable practices. We will be encouraging the Welsh Cabinet Secretary to introduce these policies and will be sharing the experience we have derived from 45 years of sustainable farming practice.”

The Sustainable Food Trust will be releasing a Policy Briefing in connection with the visit which outlines our vision for the future of Welsh agriculture. The briefing recommends the implementation of a whole farm approach which links the economic resilience and public good strands of the Welsh Assembly government’s consultation paper. In support of delivering this vision, the SFT is recommending the introduction of an annual farm sustainability audit which could take the place of all the existing audit and certification schemes using a harmonised framework for data collection, thus offering the opportunity for one inspection to replace the large range of certification and auditing schemes which are currently in use. Such a harmonised framework would enable food producers to benchmark against other food producers as well as access public purse support from the Welsh Assembly Government.

The Sustainable Food Trust is recommending the adoption of sustainable farming practices on a whole farm basis, with particular focus on methods of farming such as holistic grazing practice which stores soil carbon and produces high quality meats. We are also recommending increased support for horticultural producers and an investment in relocalised abattoirs in support of animal welfare and increased food provenance for consumers.

Photographs: Matthew Morris

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