Reducing agricultural emissions will require a reduction in livestock in Wales, according to a new report published today (Tuesday, July 25).

The Wales Centre for Public Policy (WCPP), which is co-funded by the Welsh Government, sets out in the report how Welsh farming can be supported “to unlock more rapid progress” towards the Welsh Government’s net zero ambitions.

One of the key messages in the report, commissioned by the Welsh government, is that reductions in livestock are “beneficial” to reduce agricultural emissions.

The WCPP report on “How could Wales feed itself in 2035?” also states that “it is a case of what we farm and not how we farm that will make the biggest difference”.

According to the WCPP agriculture is predicted to be the largest source of emissions in Wales in 2035, as “other sectors decarbonise more quickly”.

Farming in Wales predominantly consists of sheep and cattle grazing, with just 6% of farms devoted to crops and horticulture.

An estimated 95% of Welsh beef and lamb products are currently purchased and eaten in other countries, while the amount of fruit and vegetables grown locally annually amounts to just a quarter of a portion per person per day on average.

According to the WCPP report evidence suggests a mix of “land sharing and land sparing” approaches are the best path to reducing emissions.

Livestock emissions

The WCPP reported that: “Agricultural emissions in Wales have increased since 2016 due to livestock farming, with direct methane emissions from livestock alone making up 61% of agricultural emissions in Wales”.

“Agriculture is also a significant source of air, soil and water pollution, with a range of consequences for biodiversity and human health.”

The report added that: “Agriculture is the second biggest contributor of reported river pollution incidents in Wales (after the water industry) of which, almost half come from dairy farming”.

Agriculture is responsible for 81% of ammonia pollution, due to a reversal in the trend of reductions in fertiliser use, increased slurry spreading and an increase in emissions from cattle.

In order to reduce agricultural emissions, the WCPP recommends “a reduction in livestock farming as well as changes in farming practices to mitigate livestock emissions”.

Livestock and livestock products currently account for 86% of Wales’ agricultural output, with 76% of Wales’ utilised agricultural area being grassland for livestock grazing.

The findings of the report show that: “Changes to animal feed and interventions to increase livestock and pasture productivity indicate that these alone will not be sufficient to achieve significant cuts to agricultural emissions”.

“Overall it is what we farm more than how we farm that drives the climate consequences of Welsh agriculture.”

It has been forecast that Wales will see some climate related improvements in the first half of this century, followed by an overall deterioration of land-quality by 2080, mainly as a result of changes in rainfall.

Land use in Wales

The findings of the report have shown that as 86% of Welsh agricultural land is used for livestock grazing, enhancing land use to reduce emissions is of high importance.

“To be effective in driving absolute reductions in emissions, any reductions in the emissions intensity of livestock production must therefore be combined with measures to limit overall demand and or land use.”

The WCPP recommends that “releasing some of this land for other, more carbon efficient uses
(such as afforestation or agroforestry) could enable significant additional mitigation from
agricultural landscapes”.

“Reducing demand for livestock not only combines with supply-side options to reduce absolute agricultural emissions, but also creates new opportunities for the use of finite land resources in the context of net zero.”

“Every credible model for achieving emissions neutrality requires agricultural land to be relinquished, so that it can be used in ways that enhance our natural carbon sinks (largely woodlands and peat bogs) and compensate for residual emissions elsewhere in the economy.”

The report also stated that: “Freeing up the additional land that will be required without compromising food security, will only be possible through shifts in demand towards not only less emissions-intensive, but also less land-intensive food production systems”.