Given most hill farmers’ main source of income is direct payments, the Agriculture Bill’s seven-year phase out of BPS is a seven-year notice to quit for those in the uplands, says Tim Farron, agriculture spokesman for the Liberal Democrats.
Farming on the hills is a tough life.
Farmers’ incomes have been challenged by volatile prices and rising costs and rents.
Access to housing and broadband is particularly difficult and it can be challenging to diversify and install modern farm infrastructure in the uplands.
But as the clock ticks ever closer to our set departure date from the European Union, with the Government still refusing to take ‘no deal’ off the table, the threat to British hill farming has never been greater.
Leaving the EU on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms would see our farmers go from being able to trade freely with countries in Europe, to the absolutely kamikaze position of having a 52 per cent tariff slapped onto sheep product exports.
To put this into even sharper perspective, hill farmers in this country currently export 40 per cent of their total produce, with the vast majority (90 per cent) going to the EU.
Put simply: most hill farmers would not be able to survive this.
But even without the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, the Government’s new Agriculture Bill leaves farmers in the uplands with concerns about their futures.
The Bill includes a seven-year phasing out of direct payments which, given that most hill farmers’ main source of income comes from these payments, is effectively a seven-year notice to quit for British farmers in the uplands.
With the situation so uncertain, now seems a better time than ever, together with the NFU, to bring back our parliamentary group for hill farming.
In the coming weeks we’ll be publishing our manifesto for the uplands, working alongside MPs from all parties and meeting with Ministers to try and secure the most stable future for the industry and get a new deal for the uplands.
Tim can be found tweeting at @timfarron