A report by Rose Regeneration and UTASS has revealed how hard pressed farming families are going without food so they can afford to feed their livestock. Cash flow problems have forced many hill farmers in the English uplands to take drastic action – from cutting back on the weekly grocery bill to slashing input costs. The ‘challenges facing farmers’ study was funded by Oxfam and took an in-depth look at the lives of 20 farmers over a nine month period.
An article in last week's Famers Weekly (29th February) noted that Natural England is adopting a more conciliatory approach to hill farmers - driven by farmer pressure for more dialogue and the need for a greater understanding of upland livestock management issues. Natural England look set to establish a working framework to enable hill farmers to feel their businesses are being supported, rather than threatened, by the need to preserve the upland environment.
Average farm business income in the Less Favoured Areas was £31,100 per farm. It increased by 49% between 2006/07 and 2010/11, but remains at a relatively low level – without the Single Payment Scheme and agri-environment payments on average grazing livestock farms would have made a loss in each of the last 5 years. 37% of grazing livestock farms in Less Favoured Areas undertook a diversified activity and 26% indicated that all of their household income was provided by the farm.
Upland farmers need not be left out of the challenge of increasing food production, an NFU conference early bird meeting has heard.
While speakers from Defra and Natural England stressed the importance of sustainable intensification, there was what outgoing NFU uplands spokesman Will Cockbain recognised as a new willingness to “have the debate” on issues around stocking densities and ‘productive’ farming.
For Natural England that has meant a move away from its controversial Uplands Vision document of 2009, which chairman Poul Christensen said had ‘let his organisation down badly’.
Some of you will be aware that the chemical Asulam, used to control bracken, is to be removed from the market. However Defra and others are still trying to reverse the EU decision.
Simon Thorpe, from the Heather Trust, has updated the situation. As I now understand it Asulam will still be available for use 2012 under the use-up provisions. The message is that as far as possible it will be business as usual. During 2012, the contractors (helicopter and ground based companies) will be able to apply Asulam for landowners and managers, providing it was purchased before 31 December 2011.
These documents provide practical guidance for those involved with common land which remains under practical agricultural management by farmers and commoners. They can be used by practitioners seeking the sustainable management of commons to provide the widest possible range of public benefits.
The documents provide background information on commons, technical and legal aspects relating to commons and defining or constraining their management, and help for those involved with management.The toolkit provides 20 Fact Sheets and Guidance Notes.
The conclusions of the Uplands Policy Review were launched at Newton Rigg agricultural college on March 10th. Caroline Spellman, the Secretary of State said:
“England’s upland communities face difficult challenges, as do other remote parts of rural England, yet these are places with a remarkable range of human and natural assets and they can have a bright future. I am determined that these areas will not be overlooked and that is why I will champion their interests right from the centre of Government.
The House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Afairs Select Committee made the call in a report Farming in the Uplands published on Wednesday 16 February.
The report calls on ministers to publish a strategy that sets out a clear action plan for the uplands with practical measures to be implemented immediately. It states that increasing hill farm incomes and efficiency should be Defra’s “first priority”.