CAP reform could boost hill farm subsidy by £40 a hectare
Increased subsidy support for moorland farmers would see the livelihoods of hundreds of uplands producers in the Westcountry safeguarded.
The extra cash would come as part of a package of reforms under the new-look Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), currently undergoing fine-tuning by politicians and bureaucrats in Brussels, and now likely to be introduced in 2015.
Under proposals unveiled in the summer, CAP payments to large-scale arable farmers in East Anglia and the east of England were possibly to be slashed and more emphasis placed on supporting hill farmers, who have seen subsidies dwindle in the past decade while costs rose steadily.
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Now figures have emerged showing the proposals would amount to reducing Single Farm Payments by £5 a hectare to the large cereal producers, which would allow an increase of payments by £40 a hectare to hill farmers – worth many thousands of pounds to each, depending on the size of the holding.
The CAP proposals recognised the difficulties of farming for a profit on the uplands, including the Westcountry's Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor and Exmoor. Various subsidy schemes have long existed to help – but these diminished under the Single Farm Payment scheme, a streamlined system introduced eight years ago.
A number of reports over the past four years have highlighted the problem of moorland farmers being able to make ends meet, while the volume of farmers giving up has epitomised the dilemma of all hill farmers. There were fears that un-farmed, and thus un-grazed, moorland would lead to haphazard growth of heather and bracken, and would impinge on tourism.
The new proposals to divert funds from "barley barons" in the eastern counties to struggling moorland farmers has been welcomed in the South West.
Exmoor farmer Oliver Edwards said hill farmers were undeniably short-changed when the formula for the Single Farm Payment was drawn up.
"We are still up against the problem of bigger bills for feed, fuel and fertiliser," he said. "The barley barons are certainly doing well and they can well afford to give up £5 a hectare. I can't grow corn where I am so I have no option but to raise livestock. This money is going to be very welcome. It will be going into the pockets of local businesses like the hedging contractors – and staying in the Exmoor economy."
Ian Liddell-Grainger, Conservative MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, said: "Upland farmers manage to eke out some kind of living under the most difficult circumstances. That money would make a huge difference to hill farmers, as well as being some recognition of the work they put in to making the hills so attractive for tourists."