Project to improve upland farm profitability

This upland project focuses initially on Cumbria and Exmoor. In light of the experience gained working in these two places, the hope is to expand to two further areas later in the year.

The project provides a small amount of funding for groups of farmers to gather together to learn and gain new knowledge about how pasture management can be used to increase the profitability of livestock farms.

Activities could include farm visits, guest speakers or facilitated discussions, and will be aimed at giving farmers confidence to make changes on their own farms.

Each group will be led by a local coordinator, hopefully a young farmer or other individual, who will receive a small honorarium in return.

Project need

There is a clear need to help upland farmers improve the returns from their farming businesses. For example:

  • The 2015 Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI) report ‘The State of Farming in Exmoor’ concluded that there is “clear evidence of poor returns to hill farming and livestock production in Exmoor, which arise through insufficient ability to influence the prices received so as to ensure that costs are covered. It is clear …that there is scope for very valuable support and business innovation activity at the local level, within Exmoor itself.”
  • Robin Milton, NFU Upland and Hill Farm Group Chairman has said, “We will support this project through the Uplands Forum Network. It will help maintain a hill farming culture, provide valuable sharing of best practice and open up new markets to hill farmers. The uplands comprise 2.2 million ha, 17% of UK farmland, home to 2 million people and to 40% of the UK’s beef cattle, whilst storing 60% of the nation’s carbon and water.”
  • Askham Bryan’s 2014 Farm Business Survey of 300 farms showed Least Favoured Area (LFA) livestock farms having the lowest total income below £15,000, with negative income from livestock and total reliance on subsidy and diversification.
  • Rural Business Research shows for 2015 that LFA grazing businesses in the northwest generated a net farm income of only £39 per hectare or £5,423 per farm.

Neil Heseltine from the Yorkshire Dales, who farmed with his father conventionally but is now wholly pasture-fed said:

“In times of massive uncertainty… I have confidence that this Pasture-Fed model, can be applied anywhere and provides a solution and hope in situations where it was previously thought impossible.”

As part of the project the PFLA will update it’s ‘It Can Be Done’ booklet to include more upland producers and analyse the business case for feeding only pasture to ruminant animals using AHDB’s Farmbench software.

How to get involved

There is funding for each group to run activities for two years. However, it is hoped that through collaboration with other existing initiatives and raising further funds, the activities could continue for longer and reach out to more farmers.

The PFLA is now looking to recruit a local coordinator in Cumbria and Exmoor.  Anyone interested in this position should contact the PFLA office on 01285 889853 or [email protected].

Anyone wishing to register an interest in joining one of the groups can also get in touch using the same telephone and email.

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