Hill farmers in Nidderdale are being urged to look at their future business model as major changes could impact on their livelihood post-Brexit.
Farmers currently receive income subsidy payments from the EU which will end in 2024.
Nidderdale farmers are being invited to a free event, Farming for the Future, which aims to offer solutions and advice around the economic challenges the sector faces.
The Princes Countryside Fund is supporting the charity, Friends of Nidderdale AONB, to provide free business and environmental advice for farmers in the area to help them tackle the challenges.
Chris Clark, an Upper Wharfedale farmer and business management adviser, will have visited 26 farms in and around Nidderdale as part of his research for The Prince’s Countryside Fund (PCF). He found only one is prepared for 2024, when farming subsidies will cease.
Chris Clark said: “I believe what is happening in hill farming and agriculture shares similarities to what happened in the coalmines in the North of England. The need for coal changed, but for coal miners, their work was a part of their DNA and identity, ingrained in their community. It was hard to adapt. Hill farmers share that same sense of purpose; it’s their livelihood. But I believe their purpose is going to fundamentally change in the next five to ten years. Food production will still be part of hill farming, but it looks likely that it will provide less significant revenue. Research points to the very real scenario that their purpose will change from food production to include different public and environmental benefits.”
Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, recently announced proposed changes to the farming system. Under those plans, the current policy of providing direct payments based on the amount of land owned would be scrapped in favour of what is called “public money for public goods” with a greater emphasis on environmental protection and stewardship.
There are 800 farmers in Nidderdale. The average income of farmers without subsidies is £22,000; in Nidderdale this can be as low as £7,000-£8,000. Chris Clark, who will be one of the key speakers at the free event, has worked with the Rural Business Research Unit at Askham Bryan College to help hill farmers create robust business plans.
Chris added: “Our findings show that farmers are not doing any rigorous business analysis on their profit margins. They should start planning now for when subsidies cease. There are big changes ahead, but there are opportunities to become more business resilient. We’re using best practice industry protocols to advise them to be Brexit ready.”
Farm Conservation Advisor at Nidderdale AONB, Marian Wilby, said: “Farming is vitally important in Nidderdale, and it’s helped create the special landscape qualities that underpin our status as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We want to ensure the existing farm holdings survive. As well as upland livestock farming making a vital contribution to landscape, it’s integral to our rural economy and our communities.”
Both Marian Wilby and Chris Clark will be presenting findings from the first phase of the Prince’s Countryside Fund (PCF) business farming analysis, as well as offering potential solutions and advice. The free event will also feature a farmer who has already benefited from being involved in the project.
The event includes a free supper for farmers and their families, and takes place on Tuesday 26 June at 6.30pm at Scaife Hall Farm, Blubberhouses. To book your free place please call 01423 712950 or email email@example.com
Photo credit: Paul Harris
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