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Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Upland farming scheme pilot is good news for natural environment

The success of a ground-breaking pilot scheme means more help is on its way for upland farmers in North Yorkshire’s most cherished landscapes,

The Dales and Moors Farm Innovation Project helped farmers in the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks and in the Howardian Hills and Nidderdale Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty to improve both their businesses and the natural environment, through efficient agricultural and non-agricultural enterprises.

The project partnership — which included The National Centre for the Uplands at Newton Rigg College, the Yorkshire Dales Farmer Network, the two National Parks and two areas of outstanding natural beauty — gave training and advice to 50 upland farms.

High Nature Value farms in North Yorkshire’s national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty are responsible for some of the most valuable environmental features in the country, many of which are of international importance.  The farms also make a significant contribution to carbon storage and flood risk mitigation; produce high quality food and drinking water for the area; and manage the landscapes that attract millions of visitors each year.

Experts say that while upland farming is important to the economy, natural environment and protected landscapes it has been under the severe financial pressure of increased input costs and lower prices for many livestock and crops. This is compounded by changes to public sector support, including to agri-environment scheme priorities and basic farm support payments.

As part of the pilot, each farm business worked with specialist environmental and business consultants to identify their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The process sought to identify ways in which the businesses could:

• Improve the profitability of farm enterprises while producing better environmental outcomes;
• Work to improve marketing and variable costs such as feed and for fixed cost items such as fuel and power;
• Improve farmers’ business and technical skills.

The pilot concentrated on working with small clusters of farms in each area. This then enabled farmers to share best practice and offer advice and support to each other.

Pilot organisers say the 50 participating farms now have a platform for developing their businesses in ways that can increase their profitability, sustainability and resilience. The farmers have also developed the skills that will help them take forward their businesses as they continue to underpin the management of these world class landscapes.

Dr Ruth Smith, chair of the Skills Board from the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership which funded the project, said: “We are working with our partners to deliver a more viable and resilient rural economy that complements our area’s spectacular landscapes. The Dales and Moors Farm Innovation Project has been a great opportunity for everyone to share their expertise. We are excited to continue working together and to see the results.”

The partner organisations are now working with the enterprise project and the focus will be to expand the support for High Nature Value farming. It will also provide the investment and support networks needed for farmers to deliver the improvements identified in their plans. This will help to build a more resilient and sustainable future for a sector that is so vital to North Yorkshire’s nationally-important landscapes, and to the multi-million pound tourism industry that depends on them.

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