The future is uncertain but could be really bright, farmers say

Nether Hall Farm has had to adapt to remain a viable business

Farmers struggling with extreme weather, rising costs and labor shortages have said they face an “uncertain” future as changes to subsidies are introduced.

The post-Brexit farm payment system will fund environmental protection and sustainable food production.

One farmer said money and guidance were needed, while another said the future could be “bright” but not easy.

The government said the new scheme would help farmers “produce food profitably and sustainably”.

Farmers used to be paid with EU subsidies for the land they farmed, but now the focus is on protecting the environment.

The new organic (elm) farming schemes will pay farmers public money for measures like chemical-free control of crop pests and working towards net zero.

The measures have been widely welcomed by farming and environmental groups.

John Alpe: Sheep Farmer (New Laund Farm, Whitewell Clitheroe)

John Alpe said it was an “uncertain” time for the industry

Sheep farmer John Alpe told BBC North West Tonight he has already benefited from some environmental schemes.

But Mr Alpe, who owns New Laund Farm in Whitewell in the Ribble Valley, said uncertainty about funding has meant he has reduced the size of his herd.

He said one of his biggest challenges is rising feed costs.

He said he uses between 80 and 100 tonnes a year and the price has gone up by £150 to £200 a tonne.

At the same time, the price of lamb has fallen.

He said there was “no real understanding of how much it’s going to be and what we need to do,” so he planned to “sit quiet and just not spend a lot of money other than what we need to do.”

Whatever happens, he said he was sure of one thing.

“We won’t have more, that’s for sure. There will be fewer.”


Mr Towers has called for more investment in improvements

Ed Towers, a dairy farmer at Brades Farm Dairy in Farleton, Lancaster, said 10% of his business relies on government subsidies.

He said like many farmers he welcomes a greener focus but said the new system lacked detail, making it difficult to plan for the future.

“I would like to see more investment opportunities to make the desired improvements,” he said.

“If you want us all to have electric tractors… we need to have the money and the guidance to do it.”

He said volatility in milk prices had forced him to investigate a niche market, with his farm being the first in the UK to produce milk specifically for making latte art.

He said it offers some protection from fluctuating milk prices, but he’s also trying to make other changes to improve the farm’s environmental credentials, which have increased costs.

He said half of the farm’s carbon footprint is “the methane that comes from the cows, so we didn’t want to be part of the climate change problem, we wanted to be part of the solution.”

A diet with a garlic and citrus supplement reduces methane emissions by 30% but is expensive and has prompted Mr Towers to sell carbon credits to offset the cost.

Some arable farmers, such as Lucy and Edd Houghton of Lymm, Cheshire, have changed their crops to counter rising fuel and fertilizer costs.

Her farm produces 300 tonnes of malting barley each year for a single brewery, which has provided some financial security, but Ms Houghton said the price of other crops has fluctuated.

“We get very good prices for our wheat, which is due to the war in Ukraine,” she said.

“At the moment, however, fertilizer costs have tripled and fuel costs are also a burden on the farm.”

In 2020 they spent £20,000 on fertiliser, but this year it’s almost £90,000.

That means they switched some of the crops on their 700-acre farm and grew oats, which require less fertilizer, while also finding other sources of income, like spraying crops for 80 local farmers and delivering hay bales for weddings and private events.

Maggie Kelly

Ms Kelly said they ‘worked our socks off’ and were ‘not making any money’

Cattle farmer Maggie Kelly has also changed.

Her family now has one of the largest purebred Hereford herds in England at Nether Hall Farm in the Lune Valley, although she was originally a completely different breed.

She said rising feed costs forced a switch to “a more efficient cow” as they worked their socks off and were “not making any money”.

“We used to have a big herd of Limousins, and there was so much input…we wanted a breed that we could keep on grass.”

The National Farmers’ Union said it continues to work with the government to improve its new subsidy programs so farmers have all the details they need.

“If Elms is to be successful, we’ve always said it has to be easy, provide security and reward farmers fairly for their participation,” the spokesman said.

Sheep at New Laund Farm in Whitewell, Ribble Valley

Mr Alpe said he had to reduce the number of sheep on his farm due to rising costs

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said farming and nature “can and must go hand in hand”.

“This is essential to support resilient food production,” said a representative.

“Through our new Elms, we’re paying farmers to take actions that are good for the farm, good for food production and good for the environment.”

They added that the government has “provided comprehensive details on the programs, offering something for every type of farmer and giving them the flexibility to choose what works best for them and their country”.

“They will help farmers produce food profitably and sustainably, including £600m in grants for equipment to help them be more productive.”

Despite the challenges ahead, many farmers remain hopeful for the future, Mr Alpe said.

He said he believed his farm would still be viable when it came time for his son to take over as farmers are “resilient” by nature.

Ms Kelly added that the industry could still thrive if the government made UK agriculture a priority.

“Farmers always step in and feed the populace, so I think the future is going to be really bright,” she said.

“I don’t think it’s going to be easy, but I think it’s going to be good.”

You can see more of this story on Friday 17 March at 18:30 GMT on BBC North West Tonight.

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