Lib Dem MP condemns Defra plans for upland farms

Cumbrian Lib Dem MP Tim Farron has accused Defra of a “betrayal” of hill farmers, warning many will go broke under its proposed farm policies.

Speaking during a Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday 3 May, Mr Farron said he supported Defra’s transition from area-based direct payments to Environmental Land Management (ELM), adding that the principle of public money for public goods “makes sense”.

Upland farmers typically rely on basic payments for 50% of their farm incomes and the “erosion of the BPS” has left them requiring alternative sources of funding to “fill the gap”, Mr Farron said.

See also: Defra figures spell looming disaster for the uplands
But these were not forthcoming and the consequences were “devastating”, he added.

Mr Farron argued that the government’s “botching of the new environmental farm payment scheme is driving farmers out of business”.

Defra ministers’ decision to stick with the income-forgone principle plus costs for Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) payments and its failure to pay upland farmers a fair rate was putting off many from applying, Mr Farron suggested.

“The lowland rate [for low-input grassland] is going to be £151/ha, but the upland rate only £98/ha.”

Consequently, Mr Farron said many upland farmers had decided to farm more intensively, which will undo the good environmental work carried out on farms over many years.

“How stupid and irresponsible to design a scheme meant to protect and enhance our environment but to deliver it to so badly that it does the exact opposite?” he asked.

Minister hits back

Responding to the criticism, farm minister Mark Spencer insisted Defra’s ELM schemes “have something to offer for every type of farmer”.

He said: “Upland farmers can take advantage of 130 actions through a variety of schemes and that’s more than 60% of the total actions available to all farmers.

“This level of coverage is similar for farmers grazing livestock on the lowlands, arable farmers and those growing horticultural and multi-annual crops.

“These actions are designed to work alongside farming practices and to protect and enhance our most environmentally important sites.”

Mr Spencer said Defra had made it easier for farmers to apply for the SFI and other environmental schemes.

The department had also increased payment rates and broadened the scope of Countryside Stewardship, he added.

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