By Debbie James

New farm support strategies which threaten the viability of Welsh agriculture post-Brexit could have direct negative repercussions on the future of the Welsh language.

A new report commissioned by the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) identifies agriculture as the employment sector in which Welsh is most widely spoken – nearly a third of farmers in Wales speak the native language.

Across Wales, 17 per cent of the population speaks Welsh but that figure soars to 29.5 per cent among the farming fraternity, according to data sourced by the FUW from the Office of National Statistics.

The union’s president, Glyn Roberts, a first language Welsh speaker, warns that any decline in farming would impact greatly on the Welsh language. “It is because of farming that the Welsh language is still alive,’’ he insists.

Earlier this year, the Welsh Government pledged to safeguard the future of the language, aiming to increase the number of Welsh speakers to one million by 2050; this is double the current number of fluent speakers.

A third of Wales’ population live in rural areas where farming, and businesses which rely on agriculture, play an essential role in local economies as well as the Welsh language.

The FUW report suggests that the contribution of agriculture to the preservation of the language, in terms of numbers of Welsh speakers, is most important in communities where the language is more likely to be under threat – regions where the overall proportion of Welsh speakers is low or intermediate.

In communities where more than 20 per cent of the population speaks Welsh, the average proportion of those in the agriculture category who speak the language is consistently higher than the community average.

Meanwhile in areas where the overall proportion who speak Welsh is very low, the average number of farmers who speak it is generally slightly lower than the overall average.

“Given that this is counter to the trend seen in communities where higher proportions can speak Welsh, this may be attributable to the influx of Welsh speakers into communities where the use of the language by the indigenous population has effectively died out, including into communities which include large urban areas,’’ the report surmises.

The ONS data has also been scrutinised by NFU Cymru which has conducted its own investigation into the contribution farming makes to preserving the native language.

The union believes that the prevalence of the Welsh language within the farming sector keeps the language alive in many rural populations across Wales.

NFU Cymru president Stephen James says Welsh farmers are also key promoters and protectors of the culture and heritage of Wales.

“The culture of music, singing and choirs are emblematic to Wales – giving people a sense of purpose, identity and belonging. A strong cultural heritage allows Wales to shine on the worldwide stage and is at the heart of the Welsh brand,’’ he says.

At Alltyfyrddin, a farm-based heritage centre on the outskirts of Carmarthen, Gareth and Sharon Richards are Welsh speakers and use the language when conducting business and socialising.

The couple place an emphasis on providing information bilingually and say the Welsh language is an important aspect of the history of Wales.

They are dairy farmers and also run a flock of pedigree Jacob sheep.

Located on the farm is Merlin’s Hill where, according to legend, Merlin the wizard is kept in bonds of enchantment.

Their heritage centre developed because large numbers of visitors who wanted to walk up Merlin’s Hill and learn about the local legends and the role their farm has in those.

Mrs Richards leads groups of school children and community groups through the heritage centre, and Mr Richards shows them aspects of the working farm.

The couple take pride in their culture and traditions and are passing these onto the next generation.

They enjoy sharing their knowledge about local culture, history and farming with children and people of all ages.

“As farmers we understand the importance of teaching the next generation about Welsh culture, language, traditions and farming,’’ they say.