Action must be taken to ensure hill farmers are not disadvantaged by the way DEFRA implements CAP reform in England, MPs have been told.
The chairman of the NFU upland farming group Robin Milton, who farms on Exmoor, this week addressed the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on hill farming, which is chaired by South Lakes MP Tim Farron.
Mr Milton emphasised the need for continued direct payments for hill farmers in the light of what was set to be a massively reduced budget for rural development.
Government ministers must recognise the pivotal role played by hill farmers in producing food and maintaining the structure of the rural economy, he told MPs.
The government should stop viewing hill farmers simply as park keepers, or a delivery mechanism for environmental programmes in the uplands, Mr Milton suggested.
“The truth is that without farming there would be none of the stunning upland landscapes we all value so much – and critically, no delivery of the public goods associated with them.
“We believe Pillar one offers the best mechanism of support as it is most easily targeted to the farmer, assuming it is distributed fairly.”
The NFU upland farming group recently released a steering document outlining their views on CAP reform, suggesting various routes for obtaining a fair deal for farmers.
It was important that any support payments for rural development went to active farmers, rather than being syphoned off by their landlords or agents, said Mr Milton.
He said: “Care must be taken to both have suitable upland options and avoid creating an ‘agent’s charter’ with the limited funds available.”
This was particularly the case given the involvement of local nature partnerships and local enterprise partnerships that had limited farming input.
Earlier this month, Mr Farron wrote to DEFRA minister Dan Rogerson, inviting him to come to Cumbria and meet with farmers and businesses to talk about the rural economy.
Mr Farron said he wanted Mr Rogerson to talk to Cumbrian farmers and to see firsthand the issues they face and the work they do.
“I want him to understand the commitment of our farming community and understand the importance of preserving Cumbria’s living landscape.”