The heavy focus on the uplands in Defra’s future farming policy consultation could see permanent pasture farmers lose out on cash after Brexit, according to the National Sheep Association (NSA).
Phil Stocker, chief executive of the NSA, made the remarks when giving evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee this week.
He said: “Our upland farmers could be in a relatively good place in terms of making the case for receiving money [under a new scheme].
“But there is a big chunk of farmers in that middle ground, lowland and mid-ground, permanent pasture farmers, who if we are not careful are going to slip through the net because of a focus on the uplands and a focus on reintroduction of sheep in the lowlands.
“A lot of these farmers would be in very rural, isolated and distant places. They often do not have many options available to them, yet they produce a wonderful landscape people get enjoyment from, they produce access opportunities and they store carbon.”
Mr Stocker’s remarks were supported by Janet Dwyer, professor of rural policy at the University of Gloucester, who was also giving evidence.
She told the MPs there are marginal landscapes in the lowlands which could be ‘equally challenged’ by the loss of direct payments.
The interconnected nature of the uplands and lowlands was also stressed during the session.
Mr Stocker said there had been a reduction in the number of upland sheep connected to the lowland system, from 70 per cent in 2012 to 50 per cent today, but added the loss of breeding sheep in the uplands would still have a serious impact on the lowlands.
Jilly Greed, co-founder of Ladies in Beef, explained how there would be similar consequences in her sector.
“Dartmoor and Exmoor are famed for their suckler calf production”, she said.
“I think there are about 15,000 calves sold to lowland finishers. That is absolutely vital in terms of their market.
“If you take one away or reduce one and keep one enhanced, you are going to have a disparity.”