Future of uplands debated by MPs
TESSDALE MP Helen Goodman has called on the government to ensure continued support for Teesdale’s farmers after the UK leaves the European Union.
She made the call during a during a parliamentary debate about upland farming last week.
In response, Minister of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) George Eustace said future funding schemes aim to ensuring upland farming is profitable.
In her submission, Mrs Goodman described the upper dale as having spectacular biodiversity but warned that it is fragile.
Talking about lapwing, curlew, snipe, oyster catchers and partridges, she said: “If we do not get a good post-Brexit solution for the farming community, those species could collapse in 20 years. If they do, we will not be able to bring them back.”
The parliamentarian said tenant farmers had to live on an average annual income of about £14,000 making their businesses marginal. This needed to be taken into account if there is a change to the subsidy regime, she said.
She called for the UK to remain in the customs union because the EU remained the biggest market for farmers.
Mrs Goodman added: “It also means that we do not want the Department for International Trade to negotiate a flood of cheap lamb imports from New Zealand and Australia. It is Defra’s responsibility to make it clear that that is a red line.
“If we lose our domestic market and do not have our European markets, we will not be able to secure the environmental benefits we want, because farming must be sustainable as a business.”
She also asked that subsidy payments to be made directly to farmers.
Mrs Goodman said: “I have already pointed out that people are on low incomes that they cannot afford to see cut; they need to see their incomes rise.
“I am worried by the proposed cap on payments to individuals, which is aimed at the landed aristocracy. The only way that ministers can avoid it is if they start paying tenant farmers directly without increasing Rural Payments Agency bureaucracy, which is a long-standing problem about which the department is well aware.
“Obviously, we do not have a lot of scope for deregulation in the farming community, on animal identification and so forth, because we have to maintain our access to the European market.”
However, Mr Eustace disagreed about the need to stay in the customs union and said there was only a need for a customs agreement.
He added: “That is exactly what the Government seek – a comprehensive, bold free trade agreement with no tariffs and agreed customs arrangements. I do not agree that we need absolute uniformity on regulations.”
Mr Eustace said countryside stewardship schemes will continue to be funded until new schemes are put in place.
He added: “We have also been clear that we think we can spend the money better, focusing it on the delivery of public goods and environmental outcomes, rather than on arbitrary payments based on how much land people own or control, which clearly makes no sense if we are seeking coherent policy.
“For instance, the Uplands Alliance told us that it was very keen to move to a system of payment for the delivery of public goods.
“It makes a powerful point, because at the moment the uplands, and particularly the moorlands, get less area payment because they are deemed to be disadvantaged areas on less productive land. That could not be more upside down.
“In fact, they potentially have the opportunity to deliver more by way of public goods, in terms of public access, flood mitigation, carbon sequestration, peat bog restoration or improvements in water quality.
“There are many opportunities for the uplands to deliver those public goods, and several people are starting to say that, if we are serious about payment for the delivery of public goods, they see a vibrant, profitable model for upland farming.”