We are proposing “Our Food Alliances” in Powys and Monmouthshire to organise for one third of food eaten here to be grown locally.

We are facing a time of massive upheaval: we have to change fast

The future for farming and food in this region is very precarious. Brexit and a new trade deal with the USA will challenge Welsh farming profoundly, removing swathes of existing markets. A major recession, even depression, is on its way at the same time, triggering extremely high unemployment and putting future farming subsidies in doubt. But this is also an opportunity: there will be many seeking local employment and producing food is one such opportunity, if done profitably.

At the same time, the climate and nature crisis has not gone away and the role of farming in fixing carbon and restoring nature is as important as producing food.

To reach a target of sustainable, profitable local production for local consumption will require a plan that addresses five things:

  • LAND: small parcels of land (1-25 acres) must be made available for farming by new entrepreneurs, in addition to landowners setting up their own local food businesses. Both will produce additional income for existing farmers.
  • NEW ENTREPRENEURS: producing food commercially is not for everyone, but those with the aptitude need to be found and encouraged into the sector.
  • FINANCE: start-up funding, either as grants or loans or both, to enable rapid progress. Funding schemes embedded in the community need to be set up.
  • KNOW-HOW: a website and peer-led webinars/forums on how to start a new profitable and sustainable small farming business. There is a lot of extremely good content on-line from all over the world. We need to plan for scale-up and delivery in the future.
  • ROUTES TO MARKET: new on-line farmers’ markets with deliveries in every town, all using the same platform, so giving any producer across the region the opportunity to sell in any town.

We are proposing an “Our Food Alliance” in both Monmouthshire and Powys to bring the many stakeholders together to work out how to achieve this: landowners, food and farming organisations, colleges, funders/banks, local government, national support services, etc.

Small pockets of 1-25 acres of land can provide a huge amount of food. Photo: Tim Jones. 

 

Example: How much would Powys & Monmouthshire need to invest in the local growing of vegetables to provide for 1/3 of households?

In this very simplified model, we focus just on one basic unit, the one-acre horticultural farm and consider only 8 months of the year, the primary growing season. (Farmers will typically build other enterprises around such a core, including animals. There are other methods to support the other 4 months of the year.)

2 people (a family) can comfortably manage 1 acre of horticulture – more land requires mechanisation and a big hike in start-up costs. After the initial hard work during set-up, as with setting up any new business, such a farm requires 2 people to work about 36 hours a week for 8 months of the year – the main growing season in our climate.

For this work, the family can earn £40,000 during the 8 months, after all costs, including employment of additional peak-time labour and renting the land. 

Using these methods, in other countries one acre of land has been shown to provide veg boxes of 10-12kg to 150 families for 8 months of the year. Without intermediaries, the price can be kept down to be affordable. 

If we propose to set a target of serving one third of the population in Powys and Monmouthshire, it would require 133 and 87 one-acre farms respectively (60,000 and 39,000 households respectively).

The equipment start-up costs for such a farm are between £20,000 and £30,000 (assuming no purchase of land, just existing ownership or renting). £20,000 start-up finance would allow the rapid development of such production, if backed up by very good peer support.

An investment, therefore, of £2.7m in Powys and £1.7m in Monmouthshire would:

  • provide vegetables for a third of their populations for 8 months/year
  • create employment with reasonable income and working hours for 266 people in Powys and 174 in Monmouthshire.

 

Header photo: Shutterstock. 

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