Farming & Brexit
Britain’s decision to leave the EU poses challenges for many sectors of the economy, none so much as the country’s farmers and our Peak District farmers will be amongst those most challenged. Farmers are essential for looking after the special qualities of the National Park for the present and for the future. As well as employing 12% of the working population of the Peak District, farming is crucial in shaping and maintaining the landscapes we love.
Last year CAP payments to the UK totalled about £3bn, making up 55 per cent of farmers’ incomes across the country but here in the Peak District it’s up to 90% of farm related income for hill farmers. Some believe the CAP has been hugely distortive because farmers are granted funds according to how much land they own. This has two impacts. British farming businesses may have been unwilling to innovate, leaving agricultural productivity in the UK lagging and many of our richest land owners receive huge subsidies from the EU. (69 per cent of the land is owned by 0.6 per cent of the population)
We may condemn the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) but our Peak District hill farmers rely on generous subsidies and grants. Farming in the Peak District is not the easiest of occupations. This is a land of small hill farms, there are more than 1000 agricultural holdings within the National Park. Currently 82% of the Park is classified as farmland. The majority of land is severely disadvantaged being mainly grade 4 or 5 which indicates that it is the poorest agricultural land: mostly permanent grass or rough grazing. Many farms are less than 100 acres, which struggle to support families, and in recent years have been encouraged to diversify to avoid self-destruction or bankruptcy. The whole area is reliant on EU agricultural subsidies and environmental payments to maintain economic viability.
Most developed countries, whether inside the EU or not, maintain public funding for farming communities. The Treasury is planning to replace any shortfall in EU funding to farmers that might arise between now and the end of the decade. However, Mr Hammond is providing no more than a short term stopgap. Farmers here and across the country remain highly uncertain about their prospects after 2020. Without subsidies, almost all hill-farming will cease. Some farms may be abandoned and it will just go wild, Rewilding will be welcomed by some but here at Hope for Europe we don’t see it as a solution to protecting our environment in the Peak District.
Our hill farms get up to 90% of farm related income their income from EU subsidies and they are part of the sheep meat industry that exports 40 per cent of its produce to Europe. If the government cuts subsidies or if farmers cannot export to Europe, can an alternative business model be developed or do they face ruin?