An amendment to the Agriculture Bill to support upland farmers post Brexit has been tabled by MPs.
There is increasing uncertainty concerning the viability of hill farming after Brexit with the phasing out of the CAP and direct payments to farmers. For many, these subsidies are the difference between making a profit and a loss.
Furthermore, the beef and sheep sector could be hit with up to 60% tariffs on red meat exports in the event of a no-deal Brexit, a scenario farming unions say would be “disastrous” for UK agriculture.
Helen Goodman, Labour MP for Bishop Auckland, whose constituency includes 400 sheep farmers mostly in upland areas, tabled the amendment to the UK government’s Agriculture Bill calling for a guarantee to support upland farming.
The amendment would allow financial assistance under a new agricultural policy to be provided for the purpose of “supporting upland landscapes and communities” alongside other purposes set out in the Bill, which include rewarding farmers who protect or improve the environment and support public access.
It has support from MPs across the House of Commons, including former Conservative minister, Nicholas Soames, and former Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron.
The amendment will be considered when the Bill returns to the House of Commons for its final stages before going to the House of Lords. No date for this has yet been set.
“Upland farmers face a unique set of challenges as we leave the EU,” said Ms Goodman.
“It is vital the public good they provide is recognised in the Agriculture Bill so that they are properly supported in any new policies.
“Upland landscapes, such as those in Teesdale, are fragile environments where farming is extremely marginal. This type of farming needs specific policies to ensure these landscapes and the communities they support can survive.”
Public money for public goods
A switch to payment for public goods is fine in theory, she added, but if the amount of money paid is sufficient to keep farmers in business.
The Countryside Alliance (CA) said it worked with a cross-party group of MPs to help table the amendment.
James Somerville-Meikle, CA political relations manager, said: “The fact it has the support of so many MPs from different parties and parts of the country shows supporting upland landscapes and communities is a cross-party issue.
“The current EU Common Agricultural Policy includes specific payments for moorland and disadvantaged areas and this must continue to be possible under a new agricultural policy outside the EU. We believe the only way this can be guaranteed is by having this provision written into the legislation.”