2 May 2001
Increase hill support, urges report

By FWi staff

HILL farmers need increased support to stop them abandoning the uplands in the wake of foot-and-mouth, claims a radical new Government report.

The Governments hill farming task force suggests a 5/ha increase in hill farming allowance (HFA) payments for moorlands, to persuade farmers to stay.

In a leaked copy of the report, seen by FWi, ministers are urged to overhaul support and introduce a new environmental land management payment.

The document sets out a major cultural shift to ease moves away from Common Agricultural Policy production subsidies to environmental payments.

And in a controversial move, its authors argue that hunting, shooting and fishing activities could also qualify for the subsidies for landscape improvement.

Some MAFF officials are believed to view the document as too radical, while others want it published to provoke debate.

“Urgent measures are needed, both to prop up hill farming now and to point it towards a sustainable future,” the report says.

Its authors note that, even before the foot-and-mouth outbreak, the task force found “many hill farms on the brink of going under”.

Often farmers were surviving only because of income earned off the farm by their wives. Foot-and-mouth “will tip more over the brink,” the report warns.

Large-scale abandonment would “profoundly change the landscape people expect to see when they visit the uplands”, the report says.

It recommends farmers should be supported for managing this landscape, rather than just producing livestock.

“There is an urgent need for action to sustain the landscape and wildlife, which is now as valuable a product as the stock hill farmers traditionally produce,” it says.

“Farmers must realise that in future policy will continue to move away from headage to area payments, with premiums for enhancing the landscape and wildlife.”

Increased HFA payment and moves reform to allow more tenant farmers to join agri-environment schemes, are recommended as short-term measures.

They must be accompanied by the swift development of a basic Hill Environment Land Management payment, says the task force.

Concerns are also raised that farmers forced to slaughter stock due to foot-and-mouth may be pressured by tax concerns to restocking too quickly.

It says there is “a strong case for all slaughter compensation to be tax exempt or useable tax effectively as a pension fund or to purchase a retirement annuity”.

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