Well, I was not expecting 2022 to be as calamitous for the country and farming.
Most of the issues around energy supplies were accelerated by the war in Ukraine. It clearly demonstrates that globalisation of supply is fine while everyone gets along.
The knock-on effects for our farming businesses are input prices at an unsustainable level for many farm enterprises. And being located in the uplands does not exempt us from these pressures.
“The work of the Uplands Forum will continue to be dominated by trying to influence the shape of future policies”
NFU Uplands Forum chair Thomas Binns
The overriding context for conversations with government for the coming months must be focused on how the damaging effects of these huge input costs can be mitigated in order to give farming businesses a fighting chance.
What is happening in the energy markets should be taken as a clear signal that over-reliance on others is not a food security model to follow.
We must also remember our loyal consumers are also facing their own cost of living pressures.
ATP must include upland farmers
As I write this, Defra is still conducting a review of the ATP (Agricultural Transition Plan). This pause is very timely and needs to reflect on where priorities sit for food, farming and the environment.
To date, there has been little to offer upland farmers in the SFI (Sustainable Farming Incentive), with only promises for 2024. Frustratingly, this “jam tomorrow” message makes business planning very difficult.
We need to see an accelerated roll-out of SFI with a wider number of standards that apply to upland and hill farmers, alongside confirmation that at least 65% of the budget will sit in SFI to make sure it’s properly financed.
Extending Countryside Stewardship and making sure the offers are competitive to agreement holders will also support business planning, but this needs to include ongoing payment reviews for options and capital items.
Key to delivering food and environment policy
The work of the NFU Uplands Forum will continue to be dominated by trying to influence the shape of future policies.
We are clear, however, that without a productive farmer-based infrastructure to the uplands and grazing livestock the delivery of food and environment policy on the ground will not happen. This should be the core policy development principle in order to build a successful uplands for the future.