COMING YEARS: Farmers told to “adapt” to stay in business
Northumberland is believed to have one of the highest rates of tenant farmers of any English county
Northumberland’s farmers have been told they will have to “adapt” to stay in business in the coming years.
The county’s large agricultural sector faces an uncertain future thanks to Brexit and other trade disruptions, as well as changing Government priorities on how land should be managed.
And it has prompted fears that some, particularly tenant farmers, could be served notice to move on, as the focus shifts from producing food to initiatives such as rewilding.
“At the moment, we are looking as a nation towards finding more forestry in order to offset carbon, but also at a whole range of environmental options for farmland, farmers, landowners and tenant farmers,” said Glen Sanderson, leader of Northumberland County Council, who is also a farmer.
“Northumberland is a very beautiful county and it’s a beautiful county because of its farmers – you only need to look at the patchwork of farms, hedges, stonewalls, sheep and cattle.
“We want to make sure there is a proper balance in how we take this county forward and farmers will have to adapt to the new conditions and market forces [which] undoubtedly will play their part.
“But we have to look at the welfare and the safeguarding particularly of tenant farmers, who are very much more vulnerable in this situation.”
Northumberland is believed to have one of the highest rates of tenant farmers, in which farmers rent from another landowner, of any English county.
Following Brexit, Britain is due to phase out many of the subsidies which allow many farmers to make ends meet.
Instead, the Government has said it plans to replace the existing scheme with “a new system that rewards farmers and land managers while delivering additional public goods that improve the environment”.
But this has raised concerns among many of Northumberland’s tenant farmers.
Speaking to the most recent meeting of the county council, Coun Mark Mather, a member of Coun Sanderson’s ruling Conservative group and a tenant farmer, called for more support for his sector.
He said: “The need to address climate change is important, but I’m worried about the knock-on effect to farmers and the rural community, particularly tenant farmers and their workers.
“Many have contacted me to say they are at risk of being, or already have been, served notice to vacate land to make way for rewilding and tree planting.”
Responding, Coun Sanderson promised to set up a group to consider the issue, including members of the county council, representatives of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), Tenant Farmers’ Association (TFA) and others.
Words: James Harrison, Local Democracy Reporter
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