Economic and environmental impacts of changes in support measures for the English uplands – an in-depth forward look from the farmer’s perspective for the Defra Agricultural Change and Environment Observatory

Commercial farming in the uplands has been under sustained economic pressure for many years, characterised by consistently low levels of profitability and a high dependency on agricultural and environmental payments. The extent to which public support payments contribute to hill farm incomes raises questions as to how upland farmers would react to either the significant reform or abolition of pillar 1 payments in a renegotiated Common Agricultural Policy. The aim of this project, undertaken by CCRI and the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), was to provide Defra with a deeper understanding of how hill farmers are likely to respond to changes in economic support from government. In particular, to:

  • assess the extent to which a rise or fall in public support leads farmers to radically change their approach to farming, or exit farming altogether;
  • estimate how these approaches are likely to vary according to age, region, type of farming and type of tenure;
  • build on Defra’s recent Uplands Farm Practices survey and add depth to the understanding of attitudes and likely responses to policy changes.

The research was based mainly on primary data acquired through 83 in-depth interviews with farmers across the eight main upland regions of England and 16 environmental case studies. It also drew on contextual and benchmarking data from existing sources (Farm Business Survey data, Uplands FPS and Rural Development Impacts Study (RuDI)). The farmer interviews were designed to tease out greater detail about farmer decision-making and the causal linkages between policy changes and farm system and farm practice changes.

The environmental case-studies considered in more detail various aspects of farm management that could have environmental impacts. Understanding the key aspects of variation of how farmers might react to different policy changes is particularly important in developing strategies to support sustainable farming systems in the uplands.   Peter Gaskell led the CCRI part of the project with assistance from Janet Dwyer, Julie Ingram James Kirwan, and Jane Mills (all CCRI), James Jones and Will Manley (CCRI/RAC), and Ian Condliffe (CCRI Research Associate). The Fera team was led by Naomi Jones, assisted by Nigel Boatman, Simon Conyers and Carmel Ramwell. The project ran from 2009–2010.

The final report is available to download on the Defra website