Cumbria sheep farmers have called for an urgent rethink on “green” policies that have removed massive numbers of sheep from the Lake District fells.
Speaking at a meeting attended by Tory shadow farm minister Lord Taylor at Kendal, producers also said there needed to be action to attract new entrants into farming.
Penrith sheep producer Eddie Eastham said more schemes to encourage young people into the industry must be a priority of the next government.
“We’ve had a young shepherds training scheme in the Lake District and it was very successful. We need more like this to give youngsters a chance to get into farming,” said Mr Eastham.
Lord Taylor was told that the de-stocking of fell land to meet environmental requirements had seriously undermined the infrastructure of hill farming. This was making it even more difficult to attract young people into a system of agriculture that now appeared to prioritise environment management over sheep production.
Cumbria is facing a further five per cent fall in sheep numbers this year – after a 25% fall over the last decade.
In response, Lord Taylor pledged to give farmers a greater say in government decisions affecting their industry, make food production a priority and invigorate the rural economy with policies to encourage more young people into farming.
“Across both the hills and the lowlands we must acknowledge there’s been a very strong focus on environmental considerations,” he said. “If we want a very productive agriculture we need to re-focus the attention that’s been diverted away from farming itself.”
John Geldard, regional National Sheep Association chairman, urged the agricultural sector to “get off the back foot” and start planning its strategy for forthcoming EC changes to agricultural policy.
“Farming must be allowed to work closely with a progressive government to get the profitability back into agriculture. Once we’ve done that we’ll have created a vibrant industry that’s attractive to a new and dynamic generation of young people.”