Friday, 17 January 2014

Economic reality of the English uplands farmers

Uplands Special: Economic reality of the English uplands
17 January 2014 | By Joel Durkin

HILL farmers typically make a loss on agricultural production and are reliant on CAP support for
profitability, official Defra statistics show.

The physical constraints of the English fells mean they have never been the easiest places to farm
but the harsh economic reality of hill farming is laid bare in the Defra figures.

They show average business income on Less Favoured Area (LFA) grazing livestock farms fell
by a third to £19,700 for the 12 months to February 2013, with the fall driven partly by a 7 per cent
rise in input costs.

But, more tellingly, the statistics showed, on average, LFA grazing farms made a loss of £8,900
on agricultural activities.

They were kept out of the red by Single Payments and agri-environment schemes, which
contributed £17,800 and £9,100 respectively to the average uplands farm income.

While the Defra figures are broad averages, some farmers do make a profit from production. Will
Rawling, who farms at Ennerdale, said farmers typically received about 50 per cent of their income
from production and 50 per cent from support payments.

But all hill farmers acknowledged their dependence on support.

James Raine, who farms on upland and lowland farmland near Penrith, suggested a vicious cycle
was at play as reliance on environmental payments took the focus away from livestock production.

“We are in a position where we do not have sufficient income from livestock and we have bolstered our income through stewardship. But because of the stewardship we are not keeping the quantity of livestock,” he said.

He added the structure of the meat trade and retail sectors, with the increasing concentration into a
few hands and the relentless pursuit of cheap food had a knock-on effect back up hill.

Hill farmers also highlighted how they were reliant on the trade ‘down the hill’ for breeding and
store animals but also for the purchase of inputs.

Robert Jordan, National Sheep Association (NSA) South West regional chairman and upland
farmer on Dartmoor, said trade had picked up over the last 12 months but the rise in costs had
more than offset any increased income.

“Having to buy the majority of our feed, the rising costs are what is crippling us,” he said. “If you
look at the rise in feed, fertiliser and fuel then take a look at calf prices it is a big difference.”

Text: Uplands average income

2009/10 - £26,000
2010/11 - £21,500
2011/12 - £29,000
2012/13 - £19,700
The average hill farm is 139 hectares (350 acres), with 31 beef cows and 351 breeding ewes
Source: Farm Business Survey (2011/12)

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