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 vitalbut 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 economyand
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:
Rural economies, jobs, skills and tourism.
Biodiversity and landscape conservation.
Carbon storage, sequestration and climate
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 agreementfrom farmers'
organisations, conservation groups and public bodieson
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 feedwhich drives deforestation
in South America as forests and habitats are cleared for soy plantationsextensive
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 farmerswhose
grass-based systems have multiple environmental benefitsare
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
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"
flocksthose 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 supportwith 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 uplandsfarmers,
conservation bodies, utilities companies and public agenciesto
build common understanding and a shared vision to act upon.
Friends of the Earth has identified specific
areas for Government action and leadership:
POLICY (CAP) WITH
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 systemsincluding
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
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 economiesfor
example supporting traditional breeds, local finishing and local
abattoirsin 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
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
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.
for Rural Communities (2010) High ground, high potentialthe
future of the Uplands ruralcommunities.gov.uk/category/our-work/impact-1/uplands-communities/.
2 POST (2010), Hill Farm Support http://www.parliament.uk/briefingpapers/commons/lib/research/briefings/snsc-00894.pdf
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 http://pdrdf.org/hillfarmingreport.htm
7 RSPB (2007) The Uplands: time to change? www.rspb.org.uk/Images/uplands_tcm9-166286.pdf.
8 Friends of the Earth (2009) Feeding the Beast