The agricultural economy is the corner stone of rural communities and is important when looking to improve local and national sustainability in the context of climate change, and continuing to conserve the open countryside to ensure environmental security, food security, and access to open countryside for the enjoyment of all.
There are over 4,600 people directly employed in agriculture in the area – 2,400 in Conwy and 2,200 in Denbighshire[i]. This accounts for 20% of people of working age within rural Conwy. Based on research in rural England, every job in farming creates another job in the local economy which could suggest the impact of farming on the rural economy is much higher.
Agriculture, forestry and fishing make up over 16% of all VAT and PAYE registered businesses in both Conwy County Borough and Denbighshire, the biggest proportions (though not the highest number of employees) in both areas[ii].
People employed in agricultural work, 2013
Full time farmers
Part time farmers
All agricultural workers
Source: agricultural census small area statistics, Welsh Government
Farmers grow the raw ingredients that underpin the UK’s food supply chain, whether providing produce for the local organic market or big supermarkets. Their crops and livestock contribute to our local and national food security, as well as providing export goods. Locally sourced produce supplies many of our food producers and restaurants which are important to the wider economy. A thriving local food economy also helps support and promote healthy eating initiatives.
Farmers also manage over 75% of the total land in both Conwy CB and Denbighshire, with the average farmer spending two and a half weeks per year maintaining hedges and walls[iii]. Management of agricultural land, common land, forests, water courses and other landscapes by farmers and agricultural workers can contribute to environmental goals, and helps maintain the countryside as the lungs of the UK.
The links between farming and tourism are very strong. Many of our areas of outstanding natural beauty are maintained and managed by our farmers, and are in big part responsible for attracting over 9 million visitors to Conwy CB and 6 million visitors to Denbighshire each year[iv].
[i] What agriculture and horticulture mean to Britain, National Farmers Union
[ii] STEAM reports for Conwy and Denbighshire, 2015
[iv] UK business: activity, size and location, Office for National Statistics
Though overall numbers working in agriculture have fallen only slightly between 2003 and 2013 (from 4,655 to 4,624), the number of full-time farmers has dropped by nearly 270. This is balanced out by comparable level of increase in the number of casual agricultural labourers, suggesting a significant shift in the security of employment in the agricultural sector, and a probable change in the tenancy/ownership of agricultural land.
Succession planning remains a key issue for the sector. Traditionally farms and related employment in the sector would pass from parents to children, but in recent years younger generations have tended to pursue different career choices. This is partly due to changing expectations, but also in response to the changing national economy, which makes farming less profitable than in previous generations. Family farms are no longer guaranteed to provide employment for all the farmer’s children, and even where work is available the income it provides is not sufficient to keep pace with current living costs (including housing). Financial pressures in the agricultural sector also mean many farmers are having to continue working until older ages, which further reduces the opportunities for younger farmers to enter the industry.
Rural depopulation, particularly amongst people of working age is a concern, impacting on the viability of public and private sector services such as rural schools, public transport, village shops and community groups. In turn this can lead to reduced employment and social opportunities, which further fuels depopulation.
Young people are leaving the rural areas for education and employment, and are and not taking up farming jobs. This means that the rural population as a whole and especially the agricultural workforce is ageing.
The impact of the Brexit vote on the rural economy has the potential to be very significant. Currently Conwy CB and Denbighshire’s agricultural sector receives tens of millions of pounds each year in direct payments as part of the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy, and rural areas benefit from various other EU funding programmes and initiatives. It is not yet known how this support will be replaced.