Cumbrian livestock farmers play a key role in the community

A NEW Year dawned yesterday, but there would have been very few upland farmers able to enjoy a lie-in to savour the prospects.

The reality is many, if not most, of our hill farms are continuing to struggle - and there are few signs that the situation will improve in 2014.

Farming communities in the Cumbrian fells and Pennine hills face a number of challenges that are not easily resolved.

The greatest threat to the future of upland farms is that incomes are likely to remain low.

This exacerbates another ongoing problem, the question of farm succession.

There is a dearth of young people wanting to take over family farms and unless farm incomes improve dramatically, especially for tenant farmers who have no major land asset to cash in later in life, this is unlikely to entice new blood into the industry.

Add to these worries over TB and other livestock diseases, the potentially onerous regulations and paperwork and the high price of fuel and you have the threat of a very depressing mix indeed.

Yet, as we report on page 12 of The Westmorland Gazette this week, there are those farmers who see their occupation as not just a job but a calling.

George Harryman leads a solitary life raising Herdwicks on his Hawkshead holding but he clearly enjoys it. He’s realistic enough to know, however, why the younger generation do not generally want to embark on such a difficult working life. But Britain needs thriving livestock farms to help provide food security.

The Cumbrian fells also need them to help maintain the landscape that is so popular with visitors from around the world. And local communities need them to provide a sense of continuity with the past.

While tourism is a bigger industry for Cumbria in terms of employment, livestock farming will always remain an essential part of the economy.

Hill farmers, in particular, deserve our thanks - and our very best wishes for the coming year.

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