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Cash incentive that's destroying hill farming.

Byline: Karen Dent

POLICIES to reduce the amount of livestock on hill farms are "misguided" and shortsighted, according to the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA).

It says farmers are being enticed into the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme, which it says could cut uplands stocking levels by as much as 75%, because it offers more money than the current livestock production systems.

The TFA is questioning whether Natural England, which administers the schemes, has thought out the policy. It warned of a significant knock-on effect on the supply of home-produced beef and lamb and the future availability of the skills needed to produce it, particularly at a time when concerns about food security are growing.

TFA North East regional chairman Ken Lumley said "The uplands are not naturally formed. Hill farming land management has created the uplands we have today, including all the biodiversity that everyone values so highly.

"To reduce stocking levels, with debatable short term environmental benefit, as the main qualification for stewardship schemes, is dangerous as it disrupts the sustainable balance that has existed in the uplands over many generations. "A sustainable balance comprises a mixture of economic and environmental uses. To drastically reduce stock numbers will lead to long-term problems in ensuring the sustainability of upland communities and the environment. "The uplands need strong support but it must be sensible and not overtly reliant on short-term, non-production based grants."

The TFA is also raising concerns about the new Uplands Entry Level Scheme, which replaces the Hill Farm Allowance next year. It fears that a high number of tenant farmers and graziers will miss out because of the entry requirements. Tenants and graziers who have less than five years' future occupation of the land they farm will not be eligible, while tenants whose landlords are themselves receiving environmental payments from the Government under the standard Entry Level Stewardship Scheme will also miss out.

TFA chief executive George Dunn said "It is quite clear that those who designed the new scheme have little knowledge of how upland farming works.

"If they did, they would not have disenfranchised a whole raft of tenant farmers and graziers from accessing the scheme. Landlords who have let their land out for others to farm should never have had access to these schemes in the first place."

The TFA and the Tenancy Reform Industry Group have joined forces to make guidelines for landowners, tenants and graziers to help them reduce the number of problems it says they are likely to face because of the new uplands scheme.

CAPTION(S):

A COMMON SIGHT Sheep grazing, but farmers are questioning a policy which discourages the practice.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Oct 21, 2009
Words:439
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