Farming in the Uplands - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Friends of the Earth


  Friends of the Earth welcomes the opportunity to comment on the issues facing farmers in the uplands, the importance of hill farming for a sustainable livestock system and delivering public goods, and the policy changes needed to ensure farmers can achieve a viable livelihood and are adequately rewarded for the public goods they provide.

  The uplands are cherished national landscapes and provide essential public goods and benefits including for rural economies, food production, biodiversity, landscape, carbon storage and sequestration, and water quality. Livestock farming has been at the core of the rural economy in the uplands but is in decline. Friends of the Earth believes hill farming is vital to the sustainable future of livestock in the UK and that Government must urgently introduce measures to safeguard its future as part of a wider strategy for sustainable livestock.

  Upcoming reform of the Common Agricultural Policy should ensure that public money is targeted to extensive farmers and land managers in the uplands to reward the many environmental and social benefits they provide. New marketing initiatives for traditional breeds and grass-fed, such as labelling schemes, are needed. Ensuring the Grocery Code Adjudicator is given enough powers to enforce fair practices is vital—but more is needed to enable upland farmers to get a fairer deal from the marketplace. Public procurement has an important role to play, and the Government Buying Standards for food should include prioritisation of upland traditional breeds and grass-fed meat and dairy.


  In our uplands the farming of sheep and cattle has traditionally been at the core of the rural economy—and has shaped the countryside and landscapes that we know and cherish, including National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Hill farms provide essential public goods and benefits including:

    — Food production.

    — Rural economies, jobs, skills and tourism.

    — Biodiversity and landscape conservation.

    — Carbon storage, sequestration and climate adaptation.

    — Water quality.

    — Healthier and tastier meat.

  Yet despite the benefits to the environment and rural communities, hill farmers are struggling to survive. Many farms are operating on the brink of viability as a result of inadequate and poorly targeted support from the Government and unfair prices from the marketplace.

  There is widespread agreement—from farmers' organisations, conservation groups and public bodies—on the vital role of the uplands and the importance of maintaining sustainable livestock farming.


  Meat and dairy farming is one of the most significant contributors to global environmental problems, including biodiversity loss and climate change. However, impacts vary greatly with different livestock production systems. While intensive systems rely on imported soy for animal feed—which drives deforestation in South America as forests and habitats are cleared for soy plantations—extensive grass-based systems provide many environmental and social benefits. Grass-fed systems, in which animals feed only on grass for most of the year, are vital to livestock farming's sustainable future.

  Friends of the Earth's Food Chain campaign aims to tackle the environmental and social impacts of factory farming, and halt the wildlife loss in South America driven by intensive meat and dairy production in the UK. Globally important and species-rich habitats including the Amazon, Atlantic Forest and the Cerrado are being converted to soy plantations to provide animal feed for our factory farms. At the same time, many hill farmers—whose grass-based systems have multiple environmental benefits—are struggling to make a fair return and are leaving the sector.

  Friends of the Earth believes hill farming is vital to the sustainable future of livestock in the UK. Public money must be diverted from damaging intensive farming and targeted to extensive farmers and land managers in the uplands to reward the many environmental and social benefits they provide.


  Hill farming is reaching a crisis point. Public subsidy reforms and changing market conditions are threatening the future viability of livestock farming in upland areas. The Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) inquiry into the future of the English uplands concluded that many farmers are operating on the margins of financial viability, with low and in some cases negative returns.1 Upland farmers rely heavily on the Single Farm Payment, agri-environment schemes and income from diversification activities. The CRC reports that farmers feel isolated and fearful for the future.


  Recent reforms of the CAP to "decouple" subsidies from production have led to payments tied to better farming practice, rather than payments per head. The Single Farm Payment came into operation in 2005 linking payments to "cross-compliance" measures to meet baseline environmental management standards. Environmental Stewardship schemes have further sought to promote environmental enhancement alongside agricultural production. There have been attempts to direct payments specifically to livestock farmers in England's Severely Disadvantaged Areas through the Hill Farming Allowance (HFA).

  The 2005 reforms combined with an influential HM Treasury policy report signalled a major change in how Government viewed public support for farming and that Government "does not believe there is a role for public expenditure in subsidising food production".2

  The Hill Farm Allowance is now being replaced by an Uplands Entry Level Stewardship (UELS) scheme which is designed to fully integrate public support for the uplands into Environmental Stewardship programmes for agriculture. As with the HFA, the uplands ELS scheme is intended to support hill farmers and land managers in severely disadvantaged areas to deliver environmental and landscape benefits by giving them a range of management options to take up in return for financial support.


  Pressures from the supermarkets to intensify production for ever-decreasing returns, coupled with major changes to agricultural subsidies, are affecting the survival of our critical upland areas and the many benefits they provide.

  The 2009 Farm Practices Survey found that the two biggest challenges facing upland farmers were market prices and changes to the Single Payment Scheme.3 With upland farmers reliant on CAP subsidies to make a profit, it is vital that public money is diverted away from intensive systems and targeted towards the upland farmers who deliver public goods.

  In 2007, the average hill farmer in England had an income of £10,786, which once family labour was accounted for meant a loss of £8,800 for every farm.4 A 2008 study into the economic performance of hill farms in the South West found that average farm business income was £9,207 which, combined with labour input costs of almost £20,000, meant that each family farm made an average loss of £10,583.5 And in the Peak District farming incomes have decreased by around 75% since the mid-1990s according to the Rural Deprivation Forum, while on average cereal farmers have increased their wages by the same amount. Peak District hill farmers are among the most deprived in the country, earning just £7,482 per year for a gruelling 58 hour working week.6

  The low profitability of livestock farming is leading to reductions in stock numbers including "hefted" flocks—those which keep to a small local area throughout their lives. While changes in livestock numbers have always fluctuated, general trends illustrate that sheep and cattle numbers have been falling since 1999, as farmers are intensifying breeds, downsizing, or leaving the business altogether. There are particular concerns about the stocks of traditional sheep breeds which are declining fast, including the Herdwick of the Lake District.

  Low returns from a market place dominated by a few major supermarkets and food companies are a major part of part of the problem. In addition the lasting impacts of foot and mouth disease and limits to farm diversification further compound the difficult economic situation.


  Farmers are forced to employ fewer people as they attempt to reduce costs. At the same time, it is becoming harder to find skilled farmers for employment, both because of a lack of training programmes, and the opportunity for more financially rewarding employment outside the farming sector.

  Between 1990 and 2005, the average age of farmers rose from 55 to 58.7 Young farmers face particular barriers to entering the industry including the lack of affordable housing and availability of capital. Where demand for housing is particularly high, farmers are being priced out of the market.


  It is clear that the future for hill farming in our uplands is reaching a critical point. Despite the many public benefits provided by extensive upland farming, it receives inadequate and poorly targeted public support—with the lions share going to intensive farmers. While there is widespread agreement on the vital role of hill farming in providing public benefits, disagreement remains about how best to secure a sustainable future for farmers in the uplands.

  The Government must urgently bring together the myriad of groups with a stake in the future of our uplands—farmers, conservation bodies, utilities companies and public agencies—to build common understanding and a shared vision to act upon.

  Friends of the Earth has identified specific areas for Government action and leadership:


  Reform of the CAP is key to a sustainable future for livestock farming in the UK. While some changes can be made to the UK distribution of CAP money in the short term, other more fundamental changes need to be made as the CAP is reformed in 2013 and 2020.

  Public policy must address the market failure that leaves farmers under-rewarded for the many benefits they provide, with public payments for public goods.

  While public subsidy to farming, via the Common Agricultural Policy, in general remains very high, this is not targeted to support more sustainable farming systems. The new Upland ELS does not provide enough support to secure the future of hill farming. This contrasts with the amount of public money going into damaging farming systems. Friends of the Earth research has shown that over £700 million every year is spent, directly and indirectly, on intensive factory farming, while the Upland ELS is worth only £25 million a year.8 This money must be shifted to support sustainable farming systems—including extensive grazing, maintaining food production in the uplands. There is a strong case for better rewarding farmers who provide valuable public benefits such as carbon storage, water purification and flood alleviation through extensive grazing and diversifying livestock breeds.

  Rural development funding must also be made more accessible to upland farmers, with better advice for land managers. Specific grants from the Rural Development budget could be used to invest in sustainable local food economies—for example supporting traditional breeds, local finishing and local abattoirs—in addition to marketing local grass-fed products.

  It is clear that the current support for upland farmers is failing to ensure that sustainable food production will continue in these areas. An urgent review is needed.


  Grass-fed systems will need to be more clearly defined so that consumers can be confident they are buying a product from animals reared under an extensive grazing regime.

  Initially this will involve identifying and promoting the environmental benefits of grazing livestock with a view to developing a grass-fed legal standard for meat and dairy. Grass-fed products need to be clearly identified to consumers by labelling, in order to stimulate the market.


  Investment in research and development, and skills and knowledge transfer, urgently required. This includes the benefits and challenges for upland farming in mitigating and adapting to climate change. Significant research investment must be directed to livestock breeding, including how to increase resilience and breeds best suited to grazing on upland and marginal areas.


  The public sector spends £2.2 billion a year on buying food including for schools and hospitals. The Government must introduce mandatory standards for sustainable livestock products on public menus. This must include less but better meat and dairy, prioritising grass-fed products and traditional upland breeds.


  Farmers need a fair price for producing good-quality meat and dairy products. An effective supermarket watchdog is crucial to ensure fairer trading between supermarkets and farmers.

  Retailers should promote grass-fed and soy-free meat and dairy products to stimulate a market for food that has been bred in, and fed from, the UK. Ensuring accurate and honest labelling of grass-fed produce would assist customers in choosing upland products.


  Friends of the Earth is calling for an over-arching Government strategy on sustainable livestock.

  With the right action in the UK it will be possible to:

    — Tackle the global impacts of the UK's meat and dairy farming and consumption.

    — Provide benefits for human health.

    — Provide gains for animal welfare.

    — Create a thriving, sustainable livestock farming sector in the UK.

  Friends of the Earth is urging the Government to set out a strategy to improve the sustainability of livestock farming and consumption. The Government needs to consult widely to ensure it delivers the right package of measures. The strategy must address global impacts and set out a way to reduce them. And crucially, within this, it must recognise the vital role of hill farmers in caring for our unique upland areas, providing a sustainable source of meat and dairy, and in delivering essential environmental benefits on which we all depend.

October 2010

REFERENCES1  Commission for Rural Communities (2010) High ground, high potential—the future of the Uplands

2  POST (2010), Hill Farm Support

3  Defra, Farm Practices Survey 2009

4  Frank et al (2008) Farm Business Survey 2006-07 Hill Farming in England

5  Rural Business Economics (2008) Economics of hill farming systems in SW England: final report p.13

6  Peak District Rural Deprivation Forum (2004) Hard Times: a research report into hill farming and farming families in the Peak District

7  RSPB (2007) The Uplands: time to change?

8  Friends of the Earth (2009) Feeding the Beast

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