Farm leader Peter Kendall has voiced his frustration amid growing calls for the NFU to back upland producers campaigning for a better deal in the hills following CAP reform.

Hill farming representatives could be invited to NFU council meetings as the union tries to avoid a widening rift between upland and lowland producers. The dispute centres on how much financial support should be transferred to the hills to offset the loss of stewardship payments.

A government decision on a higher moorland rate is expected this spring. DEFRA initially proposed an 82.53% uplift in payments. But lowland producers fear they will lose out from a such a move, which the NFU has described as “disproportionately large”.

The union was not against government proposals to transfer money “up the hill” from the lowlands, Mr Kendall insisted at an NFU council meeting on Tuesday (22 January). But it needed to be sure any transfer was at the right level before agreeing to it, he added.

“I am frustrated at the way this is being portrayed – that the NFU is against this,” Mr Kendall told NFU council delegates at Stoneleigh. Recent media coverage about the issue, including in Farmers Weekly, had unfairly represented the NFU’s position, he added.

Hill farm groups say the uplift would cost lowland producers just £1.50/ha. Teesdale hill farmer Richard Betton said upland producers were probably the union’s most disadvantaged members. Even with an uplift, the moorland payment would remain modest, he told the NFU council.

“I am calling on council to support moorland uplift – not out of desperation but because we will be desperate unless we get it,” said Mr Betton. The NFU risked losing upland members unless it heeded their calls. “Please can you look after us.”

Hill farmers say the uplift is vital because they are more reliant than lowland farmers on environmental schemes. The uplands stewardship scheme is due to end and alternative income streams are likely to be limited. But lowland producers say they are also under the cosh.

Kent grower Kevin Attwood said he would like to see figures illustrating the situation faced by hill farmers. But a call by Devon farmer David Horton to invite NFU hill farming representatives to future council meetings was defeated by a show of hands.

A formal resolution inviting NFU hill farming representatives to NFU council – albeit without a vote – is expected to be considered at a future meeting. At the moment, upland farmers’ views are fed into the union’s livestock committee, which also includes lowland farmers.

More on disupte over support payments to upland producers