What’s the future for upland farms?

21.03.13 What’s the future for upland farms? Discussion archive

The lowlands and the uplands are intertwined in a number of ways, for example through livestock, feeding, water and environment. The intricate balance between the environment, biodiversity and farming is unique in the uplands and those who have influence on policy need to understand this.

Certain lowland livestock production is entirely dependent on uplands for the breeding stock, and any opportunity to increase demand along the supply chain can only be good for upland farmers.

Recognition of the constraints such as seven month winters and working in isolation will help Governments realise what farming delivers in those areas, and that abandonment of the uplands is not an option.

For its future, the issues of succession, biodiversity, aesthetic value of land, recreation, sport/hunting, water, flood prevention, and sustainable rents are all vital and need to be given much thought and planning.

The discussion held on Thursday 21st March 2013 looked at the topic of “What future for Upland farms?” and generated a total of 737 tweets on the topic from 106 participants. These included farmers, agri-food businesses, rural advisors, land agents, lawyers, journalists, academics and NFU officeholders, as well as members of the general public.

Q1 What makes farming in the uplands different? Does upland farming need its own separate ‘policy’ from UK governments?

  • Possibly, far more important is a fair deal for the uplands and upland farmers
  • Depends on CAP reform and taming of Natural England excesses
  • Governments need to recognise the unique constraints they face but also what farming delivers in those areas
  • Areas of natural constraint. We can only grow grass, sheep and cattle
  • Poorer soils, growing season, distance to market, rural broadband (lack of), biosecurity all set uplands apart
  • Uplands face 7 month winters and often working in isolation. These areas need recognition of the constraints.
  • It can provide renewable energy but may be constrained by planning
  • It provides environmental management that the market place will never reward
  • Diversity of grassland species, remote so need diff policy for fallen stock, LFA subsidy reflects fuel costs etc
  • Farming means grass and stock. Rare to see anything else, maybe game cover. N Eng enforce perm grassland policy
  • Uplands is so different, tougher, uncontrollable weather, poor land, hard to make money. But farming is needed here!

Q2 What might improving food security mean for our hills?

  • More demand for their stock, increased production and understanding the NB role they play in UK agriculture
  • What helps food security in the hills? A widespread public understanding of the health benefits of pasture fed beef and lamb!
  • The EU commission recognise that food security actually lies in upland or marginal areas. Experienced skilled people are key
  • Any opportunity to increase demand can only be good for uplands. Uplands are heart of livestock production
  • Pyramid structure with hills producing breeding and store stock maximises the use of better lowland land
  • Grass-fed livestock is important for food security because it is more WATER secure than cereal fed livestock I would think

Q3a How vital is it to keep livestock on the hills? What are the downsides of lower livestock numbers?

  • That depends. Are you coming from a position of viewing the hills as an agricultural resource or a public resource?
  • Without stock labour requirement drops massively and leads to depopulation, hard to then find skilled staff to restock?
  • Definitely need livestock on uplands of we want to conserve that habitat type. Lower numbers pr ha needs subsidising?
  • Livestock are unique land managers in the uplands, abandonment of the uplands a possibility without them
  • Hill farmers geographically further from their market, do they incur extra costs? Less opportunity 4 direct marketing or not?
  • Without stock on the hills what happens to all those valuable ground nesting bird habitats
  • Vital! Pasture quality really suffers. Great tufts of top grass.
  • Overgrazing IS a huge problem, but so is undergrazing. The key is a BALANCE!
  • Controlled stocking yes removal NO its the stock that created the upland landscape
  • We should be looking to re-introduce headage payments for breeding animals in hill areas linked to agri-environment criteria.
  • VITAL! Farming the hills= safe hill= tourism= income to area No farming=trees, more rain or wind turbines and no tourists
  • Decoupling threw baby out with the bath water. New headage payments should have Agri-environment criteria.

Q3b Will hardy native cattle e.g. Galloway, or original Angus, replace continental breeds in the hills? And re: sheep?

  • Not about any one breed but animals suitability to the environment and revenue they generate for the business
  • If Morrisons and others sell and pay more for native breeds will other shops follow; good for breeds/profit?
  • I think NB should as they were bred for that ground, they handle it Surely making more money from a suited breed?
  • I think an exmoor horn farmer needs to answer the economics question!

Q4 What do you think is the single biggest difficulty faced by hill farms in your area at the moment? Is there a solution?

  • Increasing input costs!! ……. Hmmmm buy a lowland arable farm to subside your upland livestock one?
  • People. Lack of.
  • Fluctuation in livestock prices and the weather has put many upland farmers under significant financial pressure
  • Environmental lobby biggest threat as they don’t understand
  • At the minute…. A long winter, alot of rain and feed shortages
  • This year, flooding of market with NZ lamb at time hills selling theirs in season added to v difficult year
  • Many tenanted farms in uplands keeping rents at sustainable levels is a real challenge
  • In this area the succession of the next generation. Many hill boys are old with nobody who can or wants to take the farm on.
  • Keeping tennant farms intact & the landlords not splitting the land off from house (let house & paddock for big £ )

Q5a What options for diversification are there in hill farms? Tell us what you’re doing

  • BUT my dissertation highlighted that upland farmers feel there is NO opportunity …. & when there is it has already been fulfilled by others
  • Why should hill farms have to diversify? Shouldn’t farmers get paid a fair price?
  • Electricity generation. Water power vastly underestimated potential. Environment agency have to relax views on watercourses
  • One of the biggest threats to our uplands is biosecurity. It is one of the main reasons why commoners stop grazing around us
  • Eco-tourism as a diversification where appropriate. Farmers still want to farm though not just be custodians of countryside
  • For future of Uplands, its economic and market service future is in the hands of planning possibilities/pd rights
  • All diversification, hills or lowland, shouldn’t be used to cover farming unproiftability Work twice as hard to stand still?

Q5b How attractive is organic farming as an option for upland farmers?

  • In my case it’s a requirement. Enviro sensitive land.
  • Organics=Attractive big cheque! But don’t forget added costs of organic feeding, bedding, medicine restrictions etc
  • High rainfall short growing season end up growing nothing nutrients leached
  • We missed a trick in the 80s. All hill produced livestock should be deemed organic then
  • Organic comes in 2 versions – expensive certified or trust the farmer. Give me the latter any day so most upland already is?

Q5c What are the ‘ecosystem services’ opportunities for hill farms e.g. as carbon stores – how would this deliver £?

  • As a geog student benefits of ecosystems services have been drummed in. Have alot of value both economic + environmental.
  • Someone please explain all of this carbon storage stuff to me and more importantly how I/we get paid for it please..?!
  • Carbon stores, biodiversity, aesthetic value of land, recreation, sport/hunting, water, flood prevention

Q6 How dependent is lowland farming on the uplands?

  • Source of stock for finishing in lowlands. Can work well if price right. Need partnerships between upland/lowland farmers.
  • In Wales, the 75 per cent of breeding ewes and 85 per cent of beef cows are found on the 1.1m hectares of Welsh uplands
  • More case of missing them when they have gone. The challenge is for them to work together
  • In the end water flows from the uplands to lowlands, so maintaining water quality upland, is sure important
  • Again frm geog student perspective,water is 1 of most important resources,everything that happens upland ends up downstream
  • Lowlands and uplands are intertwined in more ways than we think at first; through livestock, feeding, water and environment
  • Exactly. What’s the point in NVZs in the lowlands when majority of uplands aren’t in one!?
  • Lowland sheep farming entirely dependent on uplands for breeding stock, beef farmers need to follow suit
  • Why do I/we have to pay for fences to keep stock out of water that a multinational water company has to clean?

Q7a: Is it time to address the difference in £ per hectare CAP payments between lowland & upland farms, esp. those in SDAs?

  • Upland farmers feel they lost out last time, think this CAP needs to address that
  • It needs 2b. Or farming in the uplands will continue as so& the env, public &farmers will consequently lose out
  • Having two regions moorland & rest would help hills with minimum redistribution £4 per ha
  • Just need a fairer share in the hills

Q7b: Is there an argument for re-coupling subsidies in the hills? Is Scotland leading the way here?

  • Don’t think that’s the answer, even with coupled payments in scotland, livestock no’s declined for many years
  • Scotland leads the way in upland farming, their suckled calf scheme has got to encourage beef breeders in the uplands
  • Coupling doesn’t encourage ongoing improvement in agriculture/farms etc

Q7c: How can subsidies/support be better targeted when it comes to the uplands (e.g. LFASS in Scotland/Glastir in Wales/UELS)?

  • Was in NZ 1992. Farmer on a hilly farm said re subsidies “it’s hard to stand up tall with your hand out”
  • Huge amounts of money have gone into lake district fells via sfp/esa and now hls, hasn’t solved problems
  • Ensure that the farmer is the only one who can access the payment for a start!
  • It’s need to be targeted more appropriately. Conventional subsidies are in no way practical for a hill farm.
  • They need to be weaned off… Not necessarily related to production. Need increased diversification.

Q8 What more can be done to help older upland farmers retire from tenanted farms to allow new entrants in?

  • Focus on ‘next generation,’ should be combined with ‘older generation.’ Older farmers often want to retire, and need advice!
  • A credible retirement plan for retiring tenants – somewhere to live, something to live off of and help to retire is a must!
  • 1st farmers need to have an honest discussion with the next generation. Put all the cards on the table
  • Retiring tenants generally need access to subsidised or social housing, which like everywhere else isnt available
  • If no obvious successor in place many older farmers don’t want to retire, what would they do? Where would they go?
  • Perhaps estates could help. Do they encourage new entrants…or do existing tenants get bigger units when another retires?
  • Give upland farmers a fair deal in retirement, let them hand over fruits of their hard work and enjoy watching it develop?
  • Older farmers r often on old style tenancies re letting to a young fmr on FBT= financial benefits owner poss golden handshake

Q9 Do you think there is a prosperous future ahead for upland farms? What does it depend on?

  • Those who make policy and have influence on policy really understanding the uplands and its stewards
  • Hard to see how, distance to market, general economy, return on capital, weather, bureaucracy etc. Shouldn’t be like this.
  • A good future ahead! Like all farming requires different ways of doing things. ‘Traditional’ doesn’t mean things stand still
  • The future of prosperous farming is the same in the uplands as anywhere. Innovation, imagination & hardwork
  • Yes take the lead to get proper value from all the assets and services the hills and commons provide. Speak truth to power
  • It depends on two things. One is younger generation, without them no upland farmers
  • Ability to change, work in different ways, collaboration, produce to a customer, support underpinning environmental value

Q10 Complete the following: “The best thing about farming in the hills is …”

  • The best thing about hill farming is hill farmers!
  • The best thing about a hill farm is being master of all you survey, and being somewhere peaceful! Bliss!
  • Work point of view, best thing is the people and the pride they have in what they do
  • … the peace and quiet, stars and curlews and distance from inspectors of all sorts
  • The intricate balance between environment, biodiversity and farming, which in many cases is globally unique!

Simon Haley, Reading Agricultural Consultants, and Alan Spedding, 24 March 2013

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