Written evidence submitted by the Countryside and Community Research Institute (HIL0015)


Report prepared by Aimee Morse and Théo Lenormand on behalf of the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI). 

Aimee is a PhD student at the CCRI. She is funded by the ESRC Wales Doctoral Training Partnership and Natural England. Aimee has worked with farmers across the Snowdonia National Park, most recently conducting research on policy implementation on behalf of the Wales Centre for Public Policy. 


Théo is a Farming Scientist and PhD student at the CCRI. His work is part-funded by the Welsh Government through the Environmental Evidence Programme. Theo has used a holistic French approach of ‘agrarian diagnosis’ to analyse farming change in three small agricultural areas across Wales (Pembrokeshire, Bala and Vale of Clwyd) conducting interviews on more than 200 farms (approximately 95% of which were family-managed) and with related stakeholders, in the last 30 months.



Professor Janet Dwyer - Professor of Rural Policy 

Dr Bryonny Goodwin-Hawkins – Senior Research Fellow 

Dr Matt Reed - Director of the CCRI

Chris Short – Associate Professor in Environmental Governance


Reason for submitting evidence: 

Our research explores the functioning of rural communities in Wales, with several projects focusing on the implications of the changing agri-environmental context. We remain at the disposal of the Committee should any additional written or oral information be required.


  1. How unique are family farms and how significant is their contribution to Wales’ cultural life? 


1.1.            Reed et al. (2002) found that family farms are deeply embedded within their respective localities, possessing high levels of local cultural capital and existing within dense networks of association. These assets have a bearing on several unique attributes of Welsh family farms.


1.2.            The Welsh Language. Family farms make a substantial contribution to Wales’ cultural life. There is a particular focus on agricultural communities as strongholds of the Welsh language; a recent National Farmers’ Union survey identified 53% of respondents spoke Welsh fluently (Woods et al., 2021). One response from a farmer in Snowdonia demonstrates the prevalence of the Welsh language in remote, upland communities: “I can’t think of a time when I heard someone talking English in the village hall, it never happens” (Morse, 2021). Farmers use Welsh terms specific to their work; respondents explained that in some cases there are no direct Welsh to English translations for farming terms (Morse, 2021). If family farms are forced out of business, or required to change their practices, there is a risk that the networks in which Welsh is the everyday language of use, such as at farmers’ marts, will be eroded and the language spoken less frequently. 


1.3.            Upholding traditions and place-based knowledge. Family farms’ contributions are unique, in that those who are born and raised on a family farm display a deep connection to their land. Respondents to a research project on family farm survival termed this place attachment cynefin (Morse, 2018). This grants those living on farms access to a detailed, multi-generational knowledge of a place and the specifics of its individual management. Upholding traditions in these places now falls increasingly to farmers.  Respondents in Morse’s (2018; 2021) work explained how they not only contributed to food production and the local economy, but were also deeply involved in organising and attending local community activities, such as band practices. This is positive, but it may not be the case in all communities and should not be taken as a given; Reed and colleagues (2002) found farm family members are more likely to withdraw from participation in civic society. Efforts should be made to ensure farming family members do not feel pressured into becoming more socially isolated as a result of the workload on their farm, particularly given the findings of recent research on farmer health and wellbeing (Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI), 2021). 


1.4.            The landscape as an expression of a culture. The agrarian diagnosis completed in Wales shows that farming and land uses have shaped Welsh landscapes across many centuries, from the prehistoric reclamation of the temperate forest through to the enclosures (Lenormand, 2019). As the most extensive economic activity in the territory (occupying 85% of Welsh land) and due to the nature of its location-specific land use, farming has transformed landscapes. In creating and shaping farm buildings, houses, mansions and halls (built using local materials), place names, field networks and boundaries, and the position of trees and woodlands, Welsh farmers continue to work with and adapt this cultural heritage. This link between the landscape, culture and agriculture is recognized in the newly introduced Cambrian Mountain Lamb PGI (Defra, 2021). In the Cambrians, sheep farming is intertwined with a strong sense of cultural identity; this relationship is recognised in the designation, which references the traditional seasonal grazing system and cooperation between farms for shearing and gathering (Goodwin-Hawkins et al., forthcoming).  Common land makes up 1% of the Welsh land area. Much of this is designated as SSSI, SPA, SAC or open access land but it is a rich cultural landscape that is maintained by the act of commoning by local farmers but they are struggling to maintain this tradition (Brackenbury and Jones, 2015)


  1. What are the main challenges facing family farms specifically, and farming communities more generally, in Wales?  


2.1.            Long-term systemic issues have led to the dilution of Welsh rural culture and agro-ecosystem management within an unsustainable global agricultural context . In particular, we identify issues borne of policy choices made over the last 70 years. From 1945 there have been clear policy incentives to guide agriculture towards increased production, encouraging farms to become larger and increasingly specialised, producing commodities using more inputs while being fully embedded in the supply chain. From 1945 to 1995, the number of farms fell by a third, and in 2018 the average farm size (at 71ha) was 14ha larger than it had been in 2002 (Welsh Government, 2019). These changes are in part a response to what is an imbalance of market power in the supply chain, meaning that smaller farms tend to occupy the most unfavourable market positions. On the flipside, since the 1990s the farming environment has become more challenging and complex and, while agricultural output prices have not increased at the same rate as input costs, the industry has witnessed increased market volatility. These pressures encourage farms to scale-up operations to pursue economies of scale in land and capital, and in parallel, lead to a growing reliance on subsidy and/or finding another way to sustain household incomes (e.g. working away from the farm or diversifying into tourism (Edward et al. 2020, Lenormand, 2019)). In areas of collective management, such as common land, economies of scale eroded the traditional management of these areas and agri-environment policies, with the exception of the Glastir Commons programme, have not helped sustain collaborative approaches (Short, Brackenbury and Lewis 2012)


2.2.            Short-term challenges arise as a result of the uncertainty regarding future trade deals and policy plans (Dwyer, 2018). Family farms - particularly those producing livestock, which is by far the most common type of farming in Wales -  cannot react rapidly to emerging expectations as they plan and commit to their farming system on a long-term basis. Uncertainty following Brexit is leading many farms to rethink their activities now, rather than waiting to adjust to new policy and agri-environment scheme plans for which the details have yet to be decided. To make ends meet, most farms are looking to adopt more profitable orientations with increasing land-use intensity. Depending on farms’ positions both in the landscape and socio-economically, the available opportunities differ considerably (Lenormand, 2019; Lenormand et al., 2021; forthcoming). This uncertainty, and longer-term economic challenges, also has a significant impact on farmers’ mental and physical health, with dangerous and stressful working conditions leading to casualties and suicides (Lenormand et al. 2021; RABI, 2021).


2.3.            Our experience has shown that no issue in farming can be studied in isolation; approaches to address these challenges need to be systemic and to consider the multiple and complex interplay of a range of policy and market conditions, at this particularly challenging time. For example, the long-lasting TB outbreak crisis, significant and continuing land market challenges, succession problems within farm families, and the new imposition of an all-Wales Nitrate Vulnerable Zone, will be relevant influences acting alongside the uncertainties already discussed, for policy and market conditions. Frustration arises among farming communities when there is a lack of discussion of all these issues together, and farmers do not feel their voice is heard, or their position taken seriously, while their communities feel increasingly fragile and unrecognised (Lenormand, 2019; 2021; Morse, 2021). 


  1. What are the potential implications of free trade agreements for farmers in Wales? 


3.1.            The implications can be quite different depending on the nature of the free trade agreements (FTA) concluded with partners. In 2018, Dwyer stated that “the most likely changes in trading conditions would tend to disadvantage the competitive position of Welsh agriculture vis-à-vis its main current markets and trading competitors (particularly in sheep and beef).” With several FTAs now secured, we have a clearer picture of the position for Welsh agriculture. 


3.2.            Trade with the main trade partner - the EU. Although agricultural and agri-food goods can be traded without quotas or import duties, cross-border trade now requires additional paperwork and with it associated costs, to ensure compliance with local market rules. Large and homogenous consignments are relatively easy to send; but this is not so for smaller, mixed consignments, therefore limiting market accessibility particularly for small exporters from the UK to the EU. On this basis we can anticipate that lowest-added-value commodity exports will have been less negatively affected than higher-added-value quality Welsh food products like specialist cheeses or high-end, processed meat and vegetable products. If a negative change of context in EU agricultural markets arises, prices could be affected even more rapidly in the UK. The EU will maintain Common Agricultural Policy subsidies with the Basic Payment Scheme as an income safety net for EU farmers. This puts UK farmers at a competitive disadvantage: there is a risk that the EU could thereby seek to sell cheaper agricultural products to the UK as a way to maintain its own market balance, using the subsidy system to undercut UK domestic production. 






3.3.            Trade with competing blocs. If there is no UK import safety net[1] Welsh farming could be undercut in terms of price. Where differing regulatory environments exist, cheaper, imported goods are likely to be favoured over Welsh products in the domestic market. Competition will depend on the type, quality and quantity of products and their prices. The recent UK FTAs with Australia and New Zealand pose such a risk; although these nations’ main export partner is currently China, a political or economic crisis in south Asia could see their principal export market shift to the UK, which would represent a significant pressure on domestic sheep producers, in particular.  Additionally, these deals do not guarantee Welsh producers access to additional exports. A lack of significant differentiation of Welsh products, combined with the lower costs of overseas production, makes Welsh produce generally unattractive for Australian and New Zealand domestic markets. Regulatory compliance is also a key issue here; to avoid unacceptable competition, each partner should be held to the same standards, including sanitary and phytosanitary and animal welfare regulations. 


3.4.            Trade deals have the potential to lead to a more competitive context for Welsh agriculture. They can help trigger wide scale land-use change as shown by the ERAMMP 2021 project findings (Emmett, et al., 2021). Adaptations are already being witnessed, particularly endangering the traditional management associated with hill farming. Therefore, deals must be carefully negotiated to ensure Welsh produce continues to remain attractive in the UK market; this could be improved by further differentiating Welsh produce through certifications, for example, Cambrian Mountain Lamb (Defra, 2021; Goodwin-Hawkins, et al. forthcoming).


  1. What practical steps can the UK Government take to support these communities and how should the UK and Welsh governments work together to support these communities’ unique culture, including their contribution to the Welsh language, and heritage? 


4.1.             Policy design should recognise that Wales’ agri-environmental policy has had, and will continue to have, a significant impact on family farms’ operations and decision-making. We suggest the following:

4.1.1. Note policies need to engage the interest of farmers and land managers; this might be subtly different from national messaging around the climate crisis or biodiversity loss.

4.1.2. Maintain the commitment to participatory decision-making, with full involvement of farmers and farming families, described in the Agriculture (Wales) White Paper (2020:1). 

4.1.3. Recognise that each land manager will have a unique knowledge of their farming system and the issues faced in their specific context. Allow them appropriate opportunities to contribute this knowledge to the policy design process, in their chosen language. Policy- and industry-related terms which cannot be directly translated should be identified ahead of time, and appropriate explanations or alternative words given where necessary, to ensure equal access for first-language Welsh speakers.

4.1.4. Policymakers should conduct farm and common land visits across Wales, in order to better understand the specific contributions of family farms to both individual holdings and common land management, and to explore with farming communities the implications of their policy proposals on farm businesses and the farmed environment. 

4.1.5. Reward project working in targeted areas (such as the Sustainable Management Scheme (Morse, 2021)) and/or offer more opportunities to recognise and support/reward the added-value of products which are borne of traditional methods of stock movement and community collaboration (such as Cambrian Mountain Lamb (Defra, 2021; Goodwin-Hawkins et al., forthcoming)). These approaches can be designed to recognise the importance of local knowledge and specific cultural and knowledge exchange mechanisms which can keep family farms on the land.


4.2.             Landholding challenges and land use. There is strong competition for landholding in Wales. In order to encourage a better functioning of land markets in line with public policy goals for Welsh rural areas, we suggest the following:

4.2.1. Monitor the land market independently, publicly and accurately at different scales to understand landholding patterns, the nature of buyers and their subsequent land use choices, alongside land values (sales and rental). Our work suggests that these factors have a very important influence upon farming systems and practices in Wales. This monitoring will help refine agri-rural policy making.

4.2.2. Reflect on tenancy regulations to take into account the needs and the influence of the future Sustainable Farming Scheme, and the goal of favouring long-term sustainable land management over short-term economic returns, while maintaining acceptable conditions for the landowner (such as remuneration and length of term). 

4.2.3. Value and support existing collaborative approaches such as those operating on common land. Take special care that no unintended consequences arise from new policy that undermines the  provision of public goods from such areas due to the more complex legal status.

4.2.4. Consider structural tools to address landholding-related challenges. For example, it would be possible to establish a public land-holding agency to favour land reorganisation to better suit the needs of family farming; e.g. grouping land around the homestead; consolidated, easy to graze and to work efficiently; promoting an effective farm transmission to new entrants or inheritors, avoiding dispersal of working capital to meet taxation liabilities and ensuring continuity of farm management and cultural traditions on farm holdings, as far as possible.  Such tools exist and have worked effectively in the EU, in France they are grouped within the SAFER (Sanglier et al. 2017).

4.2.5. To limit the concentration of landholding by fewer individuals over the coming decade, reflect on Agricultural Inheritance Tax Relief over a certain value (not all farmland being equal) per inheritor.


4.3.             Succession and supporting Welsh communities. It is through succession that Wales’ unique culture can be sustained in farming communities. Family farms act as anchor institutions; their rich cultural histories and strong social relationships afford them an important presence. Where farms do not stay in the family and are instead sold on to a non-local or to a neighbouring farm which simply expands to take on the new land, this can have a significant impact on the community. It may not always be the case that those who buy the farm are Welsh speakers, nor may they wish to learn the language (Morse, 2018); if this causes the proportion of people within the community who speak Welsh to drop below 70%, it can no longer be considered the language of everyday use. To support succession, and Welsh communities, we suggest the following:

4.3.1. Offer succession planning workshops to ensure farming families have plans in place which will allow the farm to be taken over by a family member or another trusted individual. 

4.3.2. Consider the need for new structural tools to address landholding related challenges: e.g. the possibility to have an aided farm transmission mechanism avoiding dispersal of working capital and ensuring continuity of farm management even in the absence of parental help (aided loans, transmission period lease-purchase).

4.3.3. Reflect on agricultural business and agricultural employee taxation, to devise better incentives to limit capital accumulation, address farming pension issues and favour succession (Lenormand, 2019).


4.4.             Funding and reducing the competitive disadvantage. Significant uncertainty remains around the scale and scope of available funding from the UK Government to replace the EU CAP in Wales; this hasn’t been clarified since 2018 (Dwyer 2018). The Welsh Government White Paper sets out future agricultural policy as a long term scheme (Welsh Government, 2020), but without an appropriate funding horizon this will be difficult to put into operational practice on farms. A lack of facilities for food processing currently places Welsh farming at a competitive disadvantage; exporting food to England, and further afield, as a basic commodity eliminates opportunities to add value locally. To address these issues, and ensure producers are not exposed to high levels of vulnerability in competitive commodity markets, we suggest the following:

4.4.1. A long-term funding commitment is needed for the Welsh Government’s Agriculture policy, allowing farms to plan for the future. 

4.4.2. Enhance investment to help agri-food businesses improve facilities for food processing and transportation across rural Wales. 


4.5.             Free Trade Deals and Markets. There are a number of certification standards for farming in the UK, requiring inspections on top of existing legal requirements (e.g. quality marks, labelling initiatives, protected designations). These schemes would offer potential for Welsh farms to compete domestically and in export markets; thus, we suggest the following:

4.5.1. Investigate different certification schemes available to farms in Wales, to understand how well they function. 

4.5.2. Review the cultural and historical food offer in Wales, to identify more products that could apply for specific certification or respond to market expectations. 

4.5.3. Continue to promote a diverse, increased number of meaningful Welsh PDO/PGIs as a way to increase the competitiveness and resilience of Welsh family farms.

October 2021



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[1] Safety net mechanisms could include; import quotas, import duties, sanitary and phytosanitary rules (such as Maximum Residue Levels) or ‘mirror’ clauses (so, the products entering a domestic market have to mirror the production requirements for domestic producers).