Farmers and land managers produce good stock – see the field in the middle ground – but also ‘produce’ the landscape we love. Photo of Bishopdale by Stephen Garnett.

Bill that has brought grounds for real hope

Monday 27 January, 2020, by Andrew Fagg

I would hedge a sportsman’s bet that if farmers in the Yorkshire Dales were asked to name their favourite meal, fish and chips would come top of the list or very near it. 

I say that with confidence because my older brother runs a chip shop in the National Park and occasionally he calls me in to do a shift.

After the tea time rush the other night, yet another farmer came in, and we were able to talk as his haddock was being fried to order.

What do you make of Brexit then, I asked, now we know it’s really going to happen? 

It should be a good thing, just what we need, he replied. 

At first this might seem a strange answer, as this is a man who (like many farmers in the National Park) receives more than £20,000 a year in direct aid (the ‘Basic Payment’) under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, a subsidy based on the size of the area of land he is farming.  Locally, this is known as the ‘brown envelope’.

So I asked him to explain the grounds for his optimism. 

Well, he said, it’ll be much better if they pay us for what we produce.

Rewarding production is indeed the language Defra is speaking.  The Agriculture Bill introduced in the Commons last week contains a marked change from the bill of the same name which was debated but not enacted during the last parliament.

It stipulates that the proposed new Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMs), to come in as the Basic Payment is abolished, must have “regard to the need to encourage the production of food by producers in England”.   That will be music to the ears of Dales farmers who are chiefly motivated by producing good stock. 

At the same time the ‘public payments for public goods’ provisions in the first Agriculture Bill have been kept, indeed expanded, so that farmers and land managers can be paid for managing the land in ways which will enhance the environment.* 

In the Dales we hope that means farmers will be paid for producing ‘public goods’ such as traditional wildflower-rich hay meadows (which depend on grazing stock), habitat for wildlife such as breeding waders, natural flood management measures and well-maintained landscape features such as drystone walls.

Not one of the good farmers I know is frightened of the move away from the Basic Payment, provided at least the same amount of money can be earned through ELMs.  

But what we need now is detail. 

The Defra Secretary of State told the Oxford Farming Conference earlier this month that “2020 is going to be a really busy year”. Let’s hope so.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority for one, as part of the ‘Defra family’, is working closely with civil servants on the development of ELMs, largely through National Parks England.  

ELMs could bring great opportunities for nature recovery and rural development in the special and fragile landscape of the Yorkshire Dales.  

But what the National Park Authority has been saying for some time now is that those opportunities will be realised only if ELMs is locally designed (in other words, shaped by farmers like the man in the chip shop, who know the land best), locally tailored (i.e good options for the uplands, not one-size-fits-all) and locally administered.

*Many Dales farmers are already paid for environmental land management, either through Environmental Stewardship agri-environment (AE) schemes or through the current AE scheme, Countryside Stewardship. However, currently only £1 out of every £6 paid to farmers and land managers in subsidies is spent on these agri-environment schemes. The latest figures show that in 2018, a total of £3,313 billion was paid in direct subsidies to farmers and land managers in the UK; of this, £2.73 billion was through the Basic Payment scheme, with the remainder through the AE schemes.

** This article was first published in the Yorkshire Post (Country Week supplement) on Sat 25 Jan 2020.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Picture of Andrew Fagg

Andrew Fagg

Media Officer, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority

Website: www.yorkshiredales.org.uk

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