DEAR SIR: On 25 July at the UFU annual general meeting, the president implied that in a future time our products can be delivered without the need for Government support.
However, he then appeared to contradict himself by arguing “we need support for better storage facilities” and that “many of our farmyards are tired” and there is a “need to update and build modern sheds”.
This appears to have been repeated at an online event organised by AgriSearch, where he said “we need to wean our farmers off farming for subsidies and focus on outputs”.
Using my own experiences, I would argue that it is not possible on many hill sheep farms, which are over 90% heather or rough moorland grazing, to increase outputs.
However, it is possible to maintain and improve environmental outputs.
At the moment, to sustain a heather environment it cannot be fertilised, limed, overgrazed or drained.
Rough moorland grazing land cannot be reseeded, have fertiliser or slurry added to it. To do so would eradicate much of the flora such as wild orchids and other small plants. This flora is vital for insects and other wildlife.
In 2002, our farm joined an AFBI research programme to improve sheep productivity. This excellent research was of immense benefit to this farm.
Performance recording and genetics were introduced and in 2020 we achieved a lambing percentage of 171%. However, despite increased prices, without government support hill sheep farms are still not viable.
It is also the case that all farms cannot deliver equally on the environment and climate change.
Any new environmental money allocated must be used to maintain and enhance existing priority habitats and soil type. This will preserve a mixed variety of wildlife and ensure a carbon sink to help on climate change.
The European Commission is presently recommending:
Agriculture has a key role in enhancing the environment and in stopping climate change.
Hill farms, especially given their unique circumstances should be prioritised and supported.
Post Brexit, is it now UFU policy to diverge from EU recommendations for hill and marginal lands?