Plaid Cymru’s shadow rural affairs minister has made an impassioned call to enhance and develop council-owned farms as part of a new vision for agriculture.
Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s North Wales AM, said “A decade ago Welsh councils owned almost a thousand smallholdings, which were let out to farmers. The latest statistics we have show that cash-strapped councils have been selling off these assets, their family silver, to sustain vital public services.
“In the last seven years for which we have figures, more than a thousand hectares of land has been sold by councils for almost £28 million.
“There are now fewer than 500 smallholdings with buildings throughout Wales owned by councils and there’s no sense that the rate of disposal is reducing.”
Mr Gruffydd, speaking in a short debate in the Senedd in Cardiff today, said:
“Let’s put our council farms to work in a much more creative way.
“Why not strike up a partnership between councils and agricultural colleges to use council farms as an opportunity for the brightest and the best of our next generation of farming to farm the land on the understanding that they innovate, test and trial new systems and farming methods? Let’s hard-wire new thinking and the promotion of best practice into the system. Let’s put our public farm estate to work not just for those farming individuals but for wider society.
“And why stop there? There are other organisations who need to be part of this discussion. Look at what the National Trust in Wales is doing at Llyndy Isaf. The farm was bought by the Trust nearly ten years ago now and since then, working with the Young Farmers’ Clubs in Wales, a succession of young farmers have been given a bursary to make the farm work in a modern and sustainable way. Conservation farming is as much a part of this scheme as food production, very much in line with all our aspirations for the sector. It’s a fantastic opportunity for a young person aged 18-25 to have the chance to manage a farm and learn about the business with the support and advice of mentors who are on hand to help if needed.
“So my challenge today is for us to enable councils to stop looking at council farms as a quick fix to their funding problems. Let’s take that longer-term more sustainable view. Let’s put the public farm estate to work much more creatively for society.
“If we’re serious about the future of rural Wales, of making sure young people are able to live and work in rural communities and that our farming industry is fit for purpose for the challenges of the 21st Century, we have to say no to short-termism.
“Is that not what the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act is all about? Isn’t that why Wales has legislated to make sustainable development a central organising principle of the public sector in Wales?
“We mustn’t stand idly by watching this drip-drip-drip of council farms disappearing without any thought given to what we’re losing. We should be turning every stone to support local councils to be able to resist the fire sale of such an important social, economic, environmental and cultural asset – the four cornerstones of sustainable development in Wales.
“The very least we can do is bring all the players together to consider how we can not only stem the loss of our public farm estate, but turn it into something that delivers greater outcomes for our rural communities and wider society.
“With that in mind I call on the Welsh Government, working with the Future Generations Commissioner to get actively involved in this matter. Bring all the players together to tackle this issue.
“Publicly owned farms should be part of a wider movement to ensure we have a sustainable farming industry at the heart of our rural communities. The relentless selling off of our farms is a short term solution for hard-pressed councils that we must take a stance against.”