Mixed Farming - Histories and Futures: Final Report

Higgins Chris, Andy Rowland, Michael Koutroumpas, Sarah Higgins, Jamie Williams, Stephanie Ties, Einion Gruffudd, Elsa-Kristin Naumann

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report

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Abstract

Starting from the proposition that the climate and biodiversity crisis are real and merit the urgent attention demanded by the scientific community and the various declarations of climate emergency, this LEADER funded pilot project advocates a transition to sustainable mixed farming in Wales based on agroecological principles.
Based in the UNESCO designated Dyfi Biosphere Reserve in mid-Wales, the project marshals a selection of online geographic information (maps) to show that sustainable mixed agriculture is possible in many places in Wales and brings multiple social, economic and environmental co-benefits, including jobs and a more vibrant rural economy.
Working at the level of individual farm fields, we show, with reference to historic data (principally, the tithe maps of Wales), that historically, mixed farming (growing crops as well as raising livestock) was commonplace in the lower lying areas of mid-Wales. The method used for comparison with the contemporary situation dramatically illustrates the radical changes that have taken place in the Welsh landscape over the last 200 years. The negative consequences for biodiversity are graphically illustrated by the almost complete loss of traditional meadows. A glimpse into the future is provided by maps showing the suitability of land in the area for supporting a range of crops under different climate change scenarios – low, medium and high greenhouse gas emission.
From the outset, the project was informed by the position that the small, Welsh-speaking family farms that have been the cornerstone of Welsh rural economy for generations should be front and foremost in considerations of what sustainability means in Wales. In envisaging a future, ecologically sustainable Welsh society, far greater emphasis is needed on relocalisation and encouraging biologically diverse, highly productive, highly skilled, labour intensive, small scale agricultural enterprises.
In keeping with the agroecological principle of building on the past, looking to the future, we collected oral histories from a number of older generation farmers (and their wives) in the Bro Ddyfi area who have witnessed the decline in mixed farming. In the audio files accessible via the project website, the farmers describe the more vibrant and diverse rural economy of their youth, where more people worked on the land and there was greater reliance upon the help of your neighbours at critical times of the year.
As a signpost to the kind of sustainability related research and development we think is needed, we implemented a map based decision-support tool that allows users to explore the available data (carbon storage, susceptibility to erosion, prior land use) and identify opportunities for reinstating arable cultivation.
The report concludes with some recommendations for how the work of this pilot project could be taken forward and a plea that innovative digital technology be applied with greater consideration as to the urgency of our situation and the need for systemic change.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages42
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2021

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