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Stackyard News May 06

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NFU calls for continued support for hill farmers

The NFU has said continued support for hill farmers is essential if they are to sustain profitable farms and the unique upland landscape.

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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 was required.

“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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