Danger that corporations are ‘pricing out’ farmers by buying land for tree planting say Welsh MPs
Greater transparency and information is needed about the purchase of viable farm land in Wales by corporations using carbon offset schemes, a committee of Welsh MPs has warned today.
While the Welsh Affairs Committee said that it recognised the importance of woodland to tackle the climate emergency, concerns were raised that companies could be attempting to “game the system” by investing in farming land to offset emissions which is then lost to Welsh agriculture.
Farmers could find themselves “priced out” of good quality farming land as many can simply not compete with the prices paid by wealthy companies for the land, they said.
The Welsh Government have said that there any companies buying Welsh farms will have to meet their conditions before being allowed to plant any trees on them.
But in a report published today the Committee invited the Welsh Government to consider whether it has appropriate safeguards in place to ensure companies investing in carbon woodland offsets have credible emission reductions schemes.
They also called on the Welsh and UK governments to improve the transparency and regulation of carbon offset schemes which in effect create a change of land use, and suggested that greater transparency may be achieved by the creation of a register of carbon offset schemes so that the extent of this problem can be monitored.
Rt Hon Stephen Crabb MP, Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee, said: “Farming is an incredibly important and vital sector for communities across Wales. An enormous 90% of Welsh land is used for farming, and comparably with England, the farming sector employs more people and contributes more to the Welsh economy.
“Yet, Welsh farming is facing a challenging time in a number of different areas. We heard that a significant amount of farming land is being lost to carbon offset projects which is being sold at such a high price to wealthy companies that farmers, many of whom are already struggling financially, cannot compete with.
“While offsets could be a useful tool in meeting net zero, there must be adequate safeguards in place to avoid greenwashing by companies relying on offsets to avoid difficult decisions to tackle emissions at source.
“Further, with older generations dominating the farming community, we must make sure they have a suitable route into retirement so farming, and the rich legacy of traditions that come with it, continue in younger generations.”
The potential lack of farmland is just one of the issues facing family farms in Wales, the report found. Welsh farmers feel the “economics are stacked against the family farm” referring to the single farm payment, working hours and rent.
The Committee was concerned to hear that around a fifth of Welsh farms had a farm business income of less than zero with an average income of £26,000 per farm.
The language and cultural traditions maintained by family farms were also at risk, the report foun. The agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors in Wales represents 43% of Welsh speaking workers, and with farming in Wales dominated by over 60s, when they retire there are concerns that the language could be further eroded.
Many younger generations were leaving due to the lack of work, and the Committee recommended that new entrants are supported into farming, while the UK and Welsh governments should work together to create a scheme to support farmers plan for their retirement, they said.
The Committee also collected evidence on free trade agreements and heard concerns that Welsh producers could be undermined if the UK market is flooded with cheaper imports.
The Committee also stressed that it is important that safeguards continue to be included in free trade agreements with countries with a large agri-food export sector.
The Committee recommended that the UK Government publish cumulative impact modelling to show the impact of free trade agreements and again recommends that a Welsh specific impact assessment is carried out to mitigate any adverse impacts a free trade agreement could have on the Welsh farming sector.
In February Climate Change Minister Julie James appeared before a Senedd committee to answer questions about the carbon offsetting scheme.
She said that the Welsh Government’s scheme was “robust” but because “we live in a capitalist society, we can’t prevent people from buying land in Wales any more than we can prevent the farmers from selling it”.
Speaking on Radio Wales’ Sunday Supplement in January, Deputy Climate Change minister Lee Waters however said that while there was a “legitimate concern” about companies buying Welsh land the Welsh Government was heading it off.
“I would say to the Savills of this world who are cold calling – hold your horses,” he said. “Because you may well try and sell this land to a speculative investor but in order to plant trees on it you, first of all, need an environmental impact assessment. So there’s no guarantee that land will be suitable for tree planting.
“You need to properly consult, you need to change your plans based on what the community want, you need to ensure the mix of trees is right for that location. And if you don’t satisfy those conditions, you won’t be getting any money.
“So calm down, behave properly, and make sure you work with us because what we want is Welsh farmers leading the way here, Welsh landowners planting the trees, and controlling ownership remaining locally.
“This is capitalism – people are trying to make a quick buck. I’m not interested in that game. I’m trying to tackle climate change in a way that keeps wealth and control locally.
“It’s clear that some people are getting ahead of themselves and I’m here to give them a clear message, as my grandmother would say, watch your eyebrows.”
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