Symbolised by the green uplands speckled with hardy sheep, Wales has 90% of its landmass under agriculture. The country’s agricultural sector generates £1.6bn for the Welsh economy. But in an independent Wales, that number could rise to £100bn.
Agriculture has been in development for as long as humanity has been learning to live with and benefiting from our fellow animals and plants. Today’s farming methods are the result of thousands of years of thoughtful, and chance, genetic selections. But the global food system is a leading driver of many of humanity’s biggest challenges: animal welfare, climate change, zoonotic diseases, pandemics, and food security. And, as a direct result of Brexit, the agricultural sector in Wales is under threat.
Who’s subsidising who?
With no EU cash, its replacement Westminster handouts pushing farmers away from livestock husbandry towards so-called rewilding, and commercial threats from Australian, New Zealand, and CPTPP trade deals, the Welsh farmer could become a thing of the past.
Compounding these threats to Wales’ farming landscape is the lack of sovereignty that the Senedd has over raising cash for agricultural initiatives. The Senedd’s budget continues to be held in the hands of the UK Treasury. Wales generates GDP of £75bn for HM Treasury, but receives only £18bn of it back from London.
Further curtailing the potential economic powerhouse of Welsh agricultural and bio-product innovation are the UK Internal Market Act (2020) and the Subsidies Control Regime (2022), which restrict steps the Senedd can take in supporting agriculture.
A sovereign Welsh agricultural industry could be incentivised to embrace technological advancement. This would improve the quality of wild environments, address climate change, increase job opportunities, lessen food poverty, ensure better food security, reinvigorate and grow the economic influence of the agricultural sector, and save the Welsh farmer.
Answering the need for food security and seeking to develop its economy, the Dutch welcomed leading-edge technologies. Today the Netherlands is a hive of high-yielding cash crops, seed genetics, vertical farming, and robotics.
This progressive spirit has led the Dutch agricultural sector to be the second biggest exporter of bio-products on the planet, with over €105bn in exports. Determined to safeguard its place as an agricultural and bio-product superpower, in 2022 the Dutch government allocated €85mn to support cellular agriculture.
Cellular agricultural and bio-products cover many procedures, from cultivating grafted animal protein cells to a variety of fermentation and microbial processes, and even extracting carbon from the air, from which food can be made. The technology has particular use for products such as meat and milk proteins.
Advancements in these sources of alternative proteins are moving fast, particularly since the US legalised the sale of such food products in late 2022. Aside from answering some of the human-made threats to global climate stability, reducing the environmental impacts of traditional farming, bringing health benefits to citizens, and furthering food security, the Dutch expect alternative proteins to add an additional €2bn to their economy by 2050.
Sovereign solutions in agricultural sector
Countries like Singapore (the first to approve cultivated meat), the US, and the Netherlands are seeking to advance the next generation of bio-products. Through embracing this new avenue of the food producing sector they hope to maintain their leading global agricultural presence. These nations also see the political and moral need to ensure that their populations have a continuing supply of affordable proteins.
There are clear and ever-increasing reasons to take restructuring of Wales’ agricultural and bio-products sector seriously.
- Pandemics curtailing global food supply
- War between Russia and Ukraine, two of the biggest cereal-growing nations in the world
- An increase in fertiliser and animal feed costs
- Microbial and bacterial damage to major grain species, which make up the majority of the human diet
- The detrimental effects of traditional farming on soils and water systems
These are but a few of the most pressing dangers that could be turned into opportunities.
An independent Wales can be a nation that looks after its farmers, takes care of its landscapes, and plays its part in mitigating international climate change challenges. And all while building a globally competitive agricultural and bio-product industry. Working together, farmers, scientists, entrepreneurs, energy producers, and the Welsh Government could create a sector generating billions for the Welsh economy.