Wales in danger of ‘selling the family jewels’ to outside companies as farms snapped up for afforestation
Wales is in danger of “selling the family jewels” to outside companies who are buying up farms and turning them into forests in order to offset their own carbon emissions.
Farmers Union Wales President Glyn Roberts said that selling farmland to companies outside Wales could undermine the nation’s ability to tackle its own contribution to climate change.
“It would be counter-intuitive and a potential disaster if we sold off the carbon we store and sequester in Wales to businesses in other countries, and in so doing force our own businesses to buy carbon credits from other countries in future at inflated costs,” he said.
“Selling carbon credits to businesses looking to offset their carbon emissions may represent a profitable option or even a lifeline for some farmers.
“However, the same carbon cannot then be used to offset a farm’s own carbon emissions, and members are concerned that a rush to sell off carbon could hamper future generations’ ability to meet net-zero targets.”
The warning comes after a mid-Wales MP raised the alarm that whole farms, as much as 300 acres, had been purchased by major international companies to offset their carbon footprint.
Ceredigion MP Ben Lake said that such developments could “allow rural communities and the Welsh language to be undermined for the sake of a greenwashed business-as-usual”.
During a recent meeting of the FUW’s Land Use and Parliamentary Committee, members expressed extreme concern that a large proportion of the carbon locked and sequestered in Welsh land could be sold to other countries and companies outside Wales, undermining the ability of Welsh agriculture or even Wales as a whole to become carbon neutral.
The committee agreed that a quota system should be introduced to reduce this risk, and it was agreed at a subsequent meeting of the FUW’s Presidential Policy Team that the pros and cons of such limits should be the subject of detailed discussion by all FUW committee chairmen and the presidential team.
However, members of the union’s Presidential Policy Team highlighted the complexity and potential unforeseen consequences of introducing restrictions and quotas.
FUW Vice President Dai Miles said: “Quotas can have a wide range of complex consequences for businesses, as seen with the introduction of milk quotas in the 1980s, and this is an issue where we need to tread carefully.
“Quotas can artificially inflate or reduce the value of a commodity, depending on the circumstances, while introducing complex bureaucracy and limiting our ability to sell when markets are high, and we do not want to see Welsh farmers disadvantaged.”
Speculation about future carbon trading is believed to be a major driving force behind the purchase of large areas of Welsh farmland for tree planting by companies and individuals from outside Wales, raising concerns that a land grab is underway that will disenfranchise Welsh communities and strip them of their carbon assets.
“A key question is whether a proportion of the carbon we sequester on our land should be ring-fenced to agriculture first and foremost, with a further proportion ringfenced to Welsh companies or bodies – or should it just be a free market without any such limits or quotas?” said FUW Land Use and Parliamentary Committee Chairman Tudur Parry.
Many carbon offsetting contracts, Mr Parry said, are very long term commitments, which raises further issues for the next generations of farmers.
“For example, a farmer could plant a large area of trees and sell the carbon credits to a foreign company,” he said. “However, a carbon neutral requirement may be introduced in the future for all businesses, and Welsh Government already has a Net Zero target by 2050.
“But if the farmer has already sold those carbon credits abroad, the figures cannot be used to offset their own emissions, nor meet Welsh targets.”