2 April 1999

Hill aid switch last

straw

Reform of the common

agricultural policy will have

an impact on all sectors of

the farming industry.

Although many of the fine

details have yet to be

revealed by government,

producers are already

making business decisions

based on the likely outcome.

In this focus on the north-

east, Alan Barker asked

some for their views

SWITCHING hill livestock compensation from headage to area payments could have a devastating effect on upland farming.

Although details of the changes are yet to be released by the government, Richard Betton, who runs a hill sheep and beef unit in Teesdale, believes the decision could spell the end for many hill farming businesses.

Mr Betton, who is this years county chairman of North Riding and Durham NFU, believes the preferred option will be a payment of about £11/ha (£4.45/acre) on the first 70ha (173 acres), with any savings on existing hill livestock compensatory allowances going to agri-environment schemes.

For the average hill farmer with 250 ewes and 25 suckler cows, that could result in an income cut of almost £3000, he says. Further money could be lost by the inclusion of heifers and sheep in stocking rate calculations, which would rule out extensification premium for the majority of hill farmers.

Decision welcomed

Mr Betton welcomes the Agenda 2000 decision to allow replacement bulling heifers and in-calf heifers to count for up to 20% of suckler cow premium claims. That will prevent hill men having to rush out and buy replacements during the retention period, he says. But he suspects many will look for 20% extra quota if they can find it.

Again, there are still no details about how the 5.5% cut in suckler quota was going to be administered.

Mr Betton, however, hopes the reduction can be met from the national quota reserve, rather than cutting individual allocations.

Away from Agenda 2000, the other main threat on the horizon, Mr Betton says, is the governments plan to introduce a statutory right to roam.

He fears it will create a major conflict of interest between farmers, landowners, environmentalists and the public.

On his own tenanted farm, where all the moorland is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, Mr Betton says governments announcement that access can be restricted for 28 days a year will inevitably cause problems.

First there was the question of enforcing the closure and informing the public of the chosen dates.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, there would be conflict on the preferred dates for closure. As a farmer, he would prefer access to be denied during May when he was turning ewes with lambs back to the moor.

His landlord, however, would probably prefer closure in March for heather burning and during autumn grouse shooting.

English Nature, however, would probably opt for April/May during the wading bird nesting season.