Welsh Livestock farming essential for a healthy environment

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Ahead of World Earth Day (22 April), Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) is reminding the public of the essential role livestock farming plays in looking after the environment, stressing that there is a marked difference in production systems across the world.

Rachael Madeley-Davies, HCC’s Head of Sustainability and Future Policy said: “Welsh livestock farmers know that if you look after the environment, the environment will look after you.

“For centuries, they have played a pivotal role in creating and maintaining the spectacularly beautiful rural landscapes that we know and love, and their sustainable management has helped create a diverse rural environment that is rich in wildlife and visitor-friendly, thanks to a network of footpaths maintained by farmers.”

While the impact of agriculture on climate change remains a very hot topic, HCC is reminding people of the huge variations in the environmental impact of different farming systems across the world, with Wales being especially suited for rearing cattle and sheep.

“The Welsh Way of farming has a very different story to tell compared with some of the intensive and industrial systems found in other parts of the world. With high standards of animal husbandry and grassland management, our family-run farms have helped preserve our unique landscape for generations and will continue to do so for generations to come,” added Rachael Madeley-Davies.

The vast majority (80%) of Welsh farmland is unsuitable for growing crops, therefore raising cattle and sheep is the most efficient way to turn marginal land into high-quality food.

The Welsh Way of farming is largely non-intensive: unlike other parts of the world, where water resources are depleted, or significant land is used to grow feed, Welsh sheep and cattle are overwhelmingly reared on our natural resources – grass and rainwater.

Grassland in the Welsh hills captures carbon from the atmosphere, and Welsh farmers make a positive contribution to mitigating climate change; managing this grassland by combining traditional practices with new innovation. One such farmer is Emily Jones, who alongside her parents Peter and Gill, use expertise gained by generations of farming heritage to produce delicious Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef.

The uplands of mid Wales are unsuitable for growing crops, much like most of Wales, and the land is marginal. However, livestock thrive on these hills. Garnwen Farm, a centuries old slate and stone farmhouse with numerous outbuildings and traditional dry-stone walls is located in Penuwch, about seven miles from the nearest town of Tregaron and 17 miles from the university town of Aberystwyth.

The 150-acre farm is a beef and sheep unit which includes a commercial flock of EasyCare and South Wales Mountain, along with pedigree North Country Park Cheviots, North Country Hill Cheviots and Charmoise Hill sheep. In terms of beef, the herd includes Stabiliser crosses, pedigree Beef Shorthorns and Red Poll cattle.

Speaking about their farming system, Emily said: “We make every effort to go back to the old times – to older farming traditions. But we’re also looking ahead and doing our bit to help the environment, such as increasing the amount of carbon capture and farming in harmony with nature.

“This has included planting herbal leys, which include clover, chicory and plantain. All of these have natural uses and will help us improve soil health, and productivity on farm, therefore reducing our carbon emissions.

“This has been a relatively new thing for us here at Garnwen, but we are aware of the impact of climate change and determined to be part of the solution in producing quality food in the most environmentally friendly way possible.”