The NFU has said continued support for hill farmers is essential
if they are to sustain profitable farms and the unique upland landscape.
In its response to Defra’s consultation on the future of
Upland Support the NFU says that it considers the current level
of support to hill farmers to be a lifeline in the face of rising
costs and reduced opportunities.
Will Cockbain, the NFU’s National Hill Farming spokesman,
said: “The replacement scheme must not be too prescriptive
on the ground or in its application. Hill farmers have a diverse
business structure and rely on common land and short-term land
tenure making long-term commitments impossible. Any new scheme
must accommodate the traditional Less Favoured Areas business character.
Mr Cockbain said careful consideration of funding of the scheme
“It is essential that a realistic budget for the scheme
is secured; at the very least the current budget should continue.
The current Hill Farmers Allowance is one of the cheapest schemes
to administer and this is important to give value for money to
the taxpayer. Future payments need to be designed for the active
managers of the upland landscape, in other words farmers, so value
for money can be achieved and positive land management rewarded.
“All hill farmers must be able to access future funding.
The public benefits produced by hill farmers are not just restricted
to sheep and beef farmers or land in long-term agreements but are
generated by all farming systems including dairy, common land and
short-term lets in the uplands. Until such time as Disadvantaged
Areas land is favoured by the Single Payment Scheme and Entry Level
Scheme, which is essential for clarity, we do not consider it appropriate
to remove all upland support from the DA.”
Mr Cockbain said a two year transition period must be implemented
as the NFU believed that the current review could not meet the
proposed January 1 2007 deadline. He added that any future scheme
needed to be implemented for a substantial period to give farmers
confidence and stability when planning their business.
Mr Cockbain also said he believed that before any linkage was
made to Environmental Stewardship, the ELS in particular would
need substantial change.
He said: “The ELS must be reviewed to ensure that moorland
is properly defined, that the prescriptions and points weighting
truly reflect the management activities in the uplands and the
fact that they deliver wider environmental benefits than recognised
in current schemes. We particularly want to see higher points for
stonewalls, removal of the 15 hectare payment restriction in the
Severely Disadvantaged Areas and allowances for supplementary feeding.”
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