The National Beef Association has unveiled proposals for a scheme to replace the Hill Farming Allowance in January 2007.

The government is due to consult on the HFA replacement the Upland Land Management Scheme early next year, and the NBA has created a comprehensive proposal highlighting the importance of suckler cows in the upland environment and economy.

It has drawn on information from a wide range of organisations, including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, National Trust, NFU, English Nature, National Parks and the Institute for European Environmental Policy.

The proposal is aimed at providing public good and protecting the environment, which NBA chief executive Robert Forster hoped would impress DEFRA and other stakeholders.

“This proposal could be the difference between people in the Severely Disadvantaged Areas being able to survive or not,” he said.

“If the formula is wrong, people are going to give up cattle, which are an important part of the economy and upland land management.”

Breeding heifer numbers had already fallen by 22% year on year in England, and could decline by more than 35%, said the NBA’s Christopher Thomas-Everard.

Hill farmers’ support payments had dropped by over 40% since 2001/02, on top of a forecast 212/ha loss under the new Single Payment Scheme.

Much of this money had been diverted to extensive sheep farmers on grouse moors and lowland heath and bogs, who provided little environmental or social benefit, said Mr Thomas-Everard.

This money should instead be used to fund a 73m increase in the new HFA budget, to 100m.

“We want to ensure that the Upland Land Management payment is targeted at people who are providing a public good.”

He proposes a ladder approach so farmers receive extra rewards for each environmental or social benefit that they provide, on top of the existing flat rate payment.

These include growing spring cereals with over-wintered stubbles, providing environmentally desired grazing by cattle, maintaining small fields, retaining the local skilled workforce and caring for areas of high landscape value.