A fairer deal for uplands farmers has been struck between the NFU and the government.

The new deal gives them more access to the government’s farming schemes, with increased payment rates and improved options under Countryside Stewardship (CS).

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “I want to pay tribute to our upland farmers who not only deliver some of our finest produce, but also act as the guardians of some of our country’s most iconic landscapes.

“As we work to deliver a fairer, more sustainable farming system outside the EU, we are determined to make sure their interests are at the heart of these efforts. That’s why we’ve set out a range of new support to ensure that they feel the benefits of our new schemes for years to come.”

The payment rates in the environmental land management schemes (ELMs) will now be equal for both upland and lowland farms where they are carrying out the same actions.

Paying farmers for low inputs on grasslands in upland areas, which previously earned farmers £98 per hectare, is to increase to £151 - the same payment farmers elsewhere receive.

At the upper end of the scale, creation of upland wood pasture will increase from £333 per hectare to £544 to align payments for upland and lowland farmers. 

READ MORE: Film shows realities of sheep farming in upland Yorkshire Dales

There are increased rates for upland farmers in four CS options and the government has committed to reviewing and amending a further seven CS options with a view to make them more accessible to upland farmers.

The government has confirmed that upland farmers can:  

  • Get paid for more than 130 relevant actions under the Countryside Stewardship and the Sustainable Farming Inventive from 2024. This will include new moorland and upland peat action, with considerably higher payments for moorlands in good environmental condition 
  • Extend their Higher Level Stewardship agreements for five years running alongside Countryside Stewardship or SFI agreements, allowing them to get paid for more actions and take advantage of price increases 
  • Apply for the second round of the Landscape Recovery scheme, which is open to individual or groups of land managers 
  • Apply for upland Wildlife Offers for a range of management options that focus on providing habitats for farm wildlife 
  • Apply for the Farming in Protected Landscapes programme if they are in an raea of Oustanding Natural Beauty, National Park or the Broads 
  • Express an interesting in a free vet visit to reduce costs and improve productivity

NFU uplands forum chair Thomas Binns said: “Today’s announcement, which was delivered exclusively to the NFU uplands forum where the Secretary of State (SoS) Thérèse Coffey joined us this week, is the culmination of more than 18 months of dedicated work by the NFU to ensure upland farmers are valued for the food they produce and the public goods they provide.

"Numerous meetings and farm visits for ministers and the SoS have helped us to demonstrate the public goods upland farmers deliver, in addition to the sustainable food we produce.

"I thank Defra and the SoS for listening to and acting on our concerns.

“I hope today marks a real turning point in the government’s acknowledgement and understanding of the important role of upland farmers, producing food for the nation in areas which can’t be used for cropping, as well as caring for the countryside, protecting and maintaining important features such as dry-stone walls and hedgerows.

READ MORE: Upland sheep scheme payments start hitting bank accounts

"It is a positive first step that now allows us to focus on ensuring moorland and common land are equally recognised in the important contribution to upland farming, the environment and rural communities.

“For many upland farming families, it means we are able to go from firefighting and questioning our role in the future of British farming, to having the confidence and viability to make long-term decisions for our businesses.

"We will now be able to do what we do best; produce high-quality, protein-rich food and manage our most treasured landscapes.”

Announcing the new deal Dr Coffey said: “The uplands are a hugely important part of our English landscape and heritage and upland farmers are crucial for our rural economy.

“We’ve worked closely with upland farmers from day one, and they’ve told me personally what further support they need, so today we’re further responding to their feedback with increased payments, an improved offer and more engagement to ensure they are at the centre of our schemes.” 

NFU vice president, David Exwood, says this is a significant step in the development of the ELMs.

He said: “It is really encouraging to hear government has listened to our concerns about upland farmers not getting a fair deal under the new ELM schemes.

"This announcement recognises the role hill farmers play in producing our food and looking after some of our most challenging and iconic farming landscapes.

“We have fought repeatedly for ELMs to be developed in a way that is inclusive and available to every farm business.

"This announcement for upland farmers means they will receive a huge uplift to the support available under the new schemes which will provide them with the confidence they need to plan for the future.”