FIGHTING FOR FARMERS

Farm from Porlock HillThis is the view from Porlock Hill – amazing to look at, but very challenging indeed to farm successfully.  Our hill farmers deserve a better deal and I am determined to get one. They need protecting after Brexit. Future plans to scrap  regulations when Britain leaves the EU will be welcomed by farmers – but the Government must be careful to preserve things that have already been established to look after hill farmers.Simplification of instructions covering farm inspections, for instance, and scrapping unpopular EU measures like the three-crop rule, could save the farming industry millions of pounds every year. But many farmers remain sceptical, they point to previous broken promises.

I sympathise. In many cases it is our own civil servants who have taken relatively simple measures handed down from Brussels and assiduously turned them into monstrously complex regulations. If you are going to have a cull of the regulations then logically you need to cull civil servants as well because there won’t be as much work for them to do. But with the civil service any reduction in jobs always seems to be a particularly difficult thing to achieve.

It is my responsibility to keep reminding ministers of the importance of upland farming. If you look at the bald figures it’s easy to conclude that hill farming is barely profitable and hardly contributes anything to the annual output of the entire farming sector which in itself only represents a tiny percentage of GDP. But without hill farmers we would be left facing massive environmental problems.

Historically, upland farming has never been profitable which is why we have had various kinds of support in place for decades. But in return for that support the nation gets its special landscapes kept in superb condition for the benefit of the tourism sector – which is worth somewhere around £130 billion a year to the economy.

Paying hill farmers for land management is the most cost-effective way of running the national parks – and clearly delivers the ‘environmental goods’

If all the farmers trooped off the hills tomorrow the national park and local authorities simply couldn’t afford to do the work themselves. They would be bankrupt within a month and our most cherished landscapes would start reverting to an unattractive wilderness soon after.

We cannot run the risk of that happening. Hill farming is a tough, frequently unpleasant occupation where the rewards are often meagre compared with the amount of work and effort involved. We must continue to acknowledge the skills and dedication of those involved in it by ensuring it delivers them an income.