Upland farmers need to make sure their voices are heard in the negotiations about the future direction of the CAP having suffered a bad deal last time around.
Robin Milton, chairman of the NFU hill and upland farming group, said hill farmers were facing huge amounts of uncertainty and it was “last chance saloon” for some of them.
“In the uplands we felt we were severely disadvantaged in the last round of CAP reform and we need to make sure it isn’t forgotten this time around.”
Mr Milton said DEFRA’s own Farm Business Survey showed in 2010-11 the average farm business income of an upland farm was £31,000 which was half the average for a lowland farm.
Since then it had fallen 53% to £14,000 and if support payments were taken out then it equated to farmers only earning about £20 a week from livestock farming.
Launching the report Farming Delivers for the Hills and Uplands at the NFU Conference, Mr Milton said he believed there could be a prosperous future for the sector.
“I believe that we must find better ways to ensure that the full potential of the uplands is realised – to keep delivering a full range of environmental, economic and social benefits and solutions for the whole of the UK.”
The key to the future of the uplands was farming, as keeping livestock on the hills was key to maintaining the character of areas like the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and Dartmoor.
There needed to be recognition of this fact as the first step in securing sustainable and thriving farmed landscapes across the whole of the country’s hills and uplands, he said.
“I believe that we must find better ways to ensure that the full potential of the uplands is realised – to keep delivering a full range of environmental, economic and social benefits and solutions for the whole of the UK.
“And as the CAP reform negotiations continue it is also important to stress that direct payments to farmer are currently as vital lifeline – the only way we can ride-out the volatility of world markets. If these go, many sheep farmers and their families face a very uncertain future.”
Upland area designation
Farmers have been urged to make sure they engage with DEFRA’s consultation on the designation of upland areas.
The consultation, which will reclassify hill land as Areas facing Natural Constraints (ANC), runs until 27 March.
Arik Dondi, DEFRA’s deputy director for sustainable land use and soils, said maps had been drawn up which identified areas where it was more challenging to farm because of the environment.
However, he stressed the maps were not final and farmers should come forward if they disagreed.
DEFRA expected the final version of the maps to pretty closely reflect the current Severely Disadvantaged Areas designations and had flexibility to bring land in or take land out, he said.
“If anything drops out we should be able to bring it back in,” he said. “We need people to provide evidence that this land has dropped out and say ‘it is difficult to farm because of these reasons’. We just want some information on this. We don’t have an agenda.”
Read more from the 2013 NFU Conference