Uplands face "bleak and bitter future"
By Boyd Champness
FORTY-THREE per cent of hill farmers in England and Wales say their children will not be taking over their farms when they retire, according to a survey released yesterday.
The survey, conducted by the National Farmers Union, reveals that 82% of upland respondents have children – yet more than half of those (43% of respondents) said their children would be taking totally different career paths.
The NFU claims that the long-term future of the thousands of traditional family upland farms in England and Wales is in doubt – with most respondents (74%) citing falling income levels as the major reason why todays youth is leaving upland farming.
This problem is compounded by the fact that nearly two-thirds of respondents were over 50 years old, and would be looking to retire over the next decade.
NFU president Sir David Naish said that the survey results were particularly worrying as the hills and uplands have been farmed by the same families for generations.
“With no natural successors, the UKs upland communities face a bleak and bitter future,” he said.
The NFU maintains that the upland regions have important heritage value and environmental significance, and generate millions of pounds annually for UK tourism.
If hill farming ceases to exist, not only will these people have their livelihoods uprooted, but the rural communities in which they live will die a slow but certain death, according to the NFU.
Nearly half the farmers who replied to the survey received grants for taking part in environmental schemes of some kind.
But despite these grants, the 1995-6 farm business survey – conducted by UK universities on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food – showed that 42% of cattle and sheep farms in Less-Favoured Areas (LFAs) in England had net farm incomes of less than £10,000 in that year.
The NFU will be pushing these points in the lead-up to the Governments review of the level of Hill and Livestock Compensatory Allowances (HLCAs) for farmers in the LFAs. The Government is expected to hand down its decision on HLCAs in late November.
Last year, the Tory Government raised HLCA payments by £60 million to help beef farmers hit by the BSE crisis – raising the total package to £166m.
When the Labour Government came into office, it pledged to maintain HLCAs. However, the NFU is concerned that the Government will cut the additional £60m made available to upland beef farmers.
The NFU argues that, with the ban on UK beef exports still in place, and recent revaluations of the Green Pound, there is no way upland farmers can survive if HLCA payments are cut.
The survey points out that upland regions play an important role in UK agriculture – accounting for over 50% of the total UK agricultural area and employing up to 170,000 farmers and workers.
Two-thirds of the UK specialist beef herd and breeding ewes are found in designated LFAs, and more than one-quarter of the nations milk is produced on upland farms.