First-generation tenant farmer, David Stanners, who farms at Hexham, is joined by third-generation tenant, Lewis Barraclough, whose family farm is in Rosedale near Whitby. The two new forum members join longstanding Teesdale member, Richard Betton, in making sure the region’s many hill and upland farmers have a strong voice in NFU lobbying work.
Mounting frustration over an apparent lack of understanding of hill farming and its environmental contribution – as well as the impact of reducing support payments on already low farm incomes – provided the motivation for David Stanners, to put himself forward to join the Forum.
He is currently six years into a 15-year Farm Business Tenancy on his farm, 100% of which is classed as Severely Disadvantaged Area (SDA) land. Producing store lambs from 700 breeding ewes and steers from a herd of 70 pedigree Luing cattle, his main concern is the current underfunding for the proposed new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS).
“Given that we are already receiving a third less in support payments, the level of funding currently proposed will leave us standing still,” he said. “And if you look at the standards so far available for the uplands, covering moorland and rough grazing, the costs associated with the work required will offset the payment levels which are far lower than previously on offer.”
He is also frustrated at the lack of recognition for the decades of environmental delivery already provided by hill farming businesses and what he sees as a disconnect between the need for productive farming and ongoing policies to take land out of production.
“I want to do all I can to make sure our sector is well represented and drive home the message that ‘a few sheep on the hill’ – as described by one farming minister – actually form the bedrock of our market towns and rural economy,” he said.
Lewis Barraclough, who farms alongside his father Chris and partner Alora, brings a next generation perspective to the Forum. At 29 years old, he is seeking to carve out a sustainable future for his complex sheep enterprise, which incorporates tenanted land and common grazing rights as well as owned grazing.
Looking to increase production
Selling wethers as stores, plus a small number of gimmer lambs as breeding stock – as well as producing his own replacements – Lewis is ideally looking to increase production within the constraints of a new Countryside Stewardship agreement he has just entered into.
“Compared to our moorland HLS agreement, which finished in 2019, my Countryside Stewardship payments are down by a third, which when combined with support payment reductions, means a sizeable hole in our farm income,” he said. “Good returns are compensating so far, but obviously the eye-watering increase in input costs is taking its toll.”
As a younger member of the hill farming community, he is concerned that relatively few young people are coming through in local farming businesses.
“No-one knows really what’s coming next and I hope that joining the Forum will give me greater insights that I can share with members as well as putting across the challenges we face,” he said.
“These are worrying times, but I am so proud of the local farming community, their skill and commitment to the area. It will be a real honour to represent them.”
Significant contribution must be recognised and rewarded
NFU Regional Director, Adam Bedford, thanked both farmers for taking on their new roles. “Our upland areas, that make up around 60% of North East England, are facing very uncertain times,” he said.
“Historically a sector with low farm incomes, hill and upland farmers are struggling to see how they will be able to carve out a sustainable future as they face the biggest changes to affect farming for decades.
“The fantastic upland landscapes across our national parks, that cater for local people and visitors alike, has been created and managed by generations of farmers. This significant contribution must be recognised and rewarded if the sector is to survive and thrive.”