Group champions the cause of hill farming

REASONS why sheep are good for the hills, and hill sheep are good for all of us, are summed up in a report presented to the All Party Hill Farming Group in the House of Lords on Wednesday.

The National Sheep Association produced it as a briefing for anyone involved in arguments about support for hill farming.

The Complementary Role of Sheep In Less Favoured Areas can be found at http://tinyurl.com/cqsucdd/ It says:

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Sheep convert low-quality vegetation into high-quality protein.

Sheep grazing naturally produce especially healthy meat.

Without sheep, management of rough land would be abandoned, with consequences for the landscape.

The value of the sheep percolates and multiplies through upland economies.

The hill sheep business offers a cheap way into farming for new entrants.

Sheep farming fits well with grouse moor management, which is also economically important.

Speaking at the launch of the report, NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “One of our biggest challenges is to feed a growing global population within increasingly limited and volatile resource availability. This doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice the environment but it does mean that we should recognise the value of our upland marginal areas in contributing to food security while also delivering many things that the public value – such as traditional landscape, vibrant farming communities, and the multiplier effect of local economies.

“Our agricultural policies need to become far more holistic and recognise the need to bring farming, food and the environment together, rather than separate them.”

George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers’ Association, said: “The NSA report captures the true importance of breeding livestock production to all aspects of our hills and uplands, including the environment, food security, health and welfare, the economy, landscape management, sport and tourism.

“Following a period of time when policymakers have relegated the importance of livestock production, it is great to see a report which champions its benefits.

“Hill and upland areas have been badly affected by a number of major shifts in policy and in reward structures over past years.

“The TFA believes we need a fundamental review of the decision which led to the abandonment of payments for breeding livestock and the development of a new scheme for the long-term which will deliver an integrated hill and upland environmental land management reward package with stock rearing at its core.”

Once the livestock farmers had left the uplands, he said, it would be nearly impossible to get them back.

Drop in sheepmeat production

ALSO in the report: EU sheepmeat production has fallen 30 per cent and UK production 10 per cent since 2005 – while the human population has grown. UK sheepmeat exports have grown from 24 per cent of production in 2004 to 32 per cent of production in 2010. Between them, these figures mean that only 60 per cent of the sheepmeat eaten in the UK is sourced from the UK and even if we exported none, we would only be 91 per cent self-sufficient. But hill farms generally still need CAP support to keep going.