THE Government has been warned not to ignore the ‘special case’ status of upland producers when it draws up its new framework for farm support.
MP Ian Liddell-Grainger says there could be ‘catastrophic’ consequences for the country as a whole if the particular needs of hill farmers were no longer taken into account when funds were being allocated.
Ministers are about to detail the way farm support will be distributed in the first full year since leaving the EU – which formerly underwrote UK agriculture to the tune of £3.5 billion annually.
The Government says direct support will be reduced on a sliding scale, with those who have historically received most taking the steepest cuts. But with farmers currently beset by huge price increases for fertilisers and energy experts say even those whose support will only be cut by 5% could run into severe difficulties.
Mr Liddell-Grainger, whose Bridgwater and West Somerset constituency includes most of Exmoor national park, said the Government absolutely had to make special arrangements for hill farmers.
He said: “It has been recognised for decades that while the rigours of hill farming severely constrain profitability we cannot afford to lose those dedicated souls who farm the uplands because they are delivering the nation land management and nature conservation on the cheap,” he said.
“Hill farming has been underwritten thanks to a succession of regimes which have recognised that and provided financial cushions to make it possible for producers to stay in business.
Pulling the rug away
“We simply cannot now pull the rug away. It would lead the national park having to recruit an army of staff to take on land management which, of course, would be completely unaffordable.
“But unless you manage the uplands such as Exmoor and the Quantocks properly they will simply revert to unattractive, scrub-infested wilderness and you will then kiss goodbye to the tourist trade – a catastrophic outcome.
“Hill farmers are looking to the Government to deliver on all those assurances that their special status would be taken into account when policy was being framed and unless it wants a real farmers’ rebellion on its hands the Government would be well advised to do so.”