CAP reform will hit hills hardest, North East told: By Wendy Short North east correspindent

HILL FARMERS will feel the impact of CAP reform more than any other sector, NFU council delegate Richard Betton told the annual Great North Meet conference.

“We are primary producers in a primary industry, and therefore more vulnerable in a global market, because of our seasonality of production and the need to move stock off the hills in the winter,” said Mr Betton, as he spoke in Bedale, North Yorks last Friday (29 October).

 “Any loss of government funding could undermine economic stability in Less Favoured Areas,” he said. “We need to know now what the payments will be, so we can talk to our bank managers and our landlords.”

The move towards a further reduction in hill farm livestock numbers, which had come from a variety of environmental pressure groups, was also causing concern, said Mr Betton.

“Some of these groups, especially those concerned with a single species, have conflicting ideas. That does not encourage biodiversity.

“The kind of habitat suitable for the black grouse may not be right for the lapwing, for example. What we need is a range of features, in order to achieve a balance.

 “Undergrazing could become a real problem. Cattle are more indiscriminate grazers than sheep. If suckler cows are uneconomic, hill landscapes could change, and some wildlife species could suffer. Hill producers know all these things, but they seem to be a lone voice, despite being experts and having hands-on knowledge of their land,” he said.

Speaking about the environmental standards farmers will have to meet after Jan 1, Environment Agency chairman John Harman confirmed that EA staff will need to visit farms so it can make reports to the Rural Payments Agency.

But the inspections will not be intended as an exercise to catch farmers out, he stressed.

 “We want environmental improvement, not penalties,” said Sir John. “We do not monitor farms within Nitrate Vulnerable Zones with the aim of prosecuting people who have made a mistake.

 “We will have the same attitude towards cross-compliance. If there is something wrong, we will help to put it right.

 “We don’t want to be looking over the farmgate all the time, although we do expect better environmental results from the industry,” he said.