Farmer feedback on the Baseline Assessment and Innovation Report
In 2005 it was realised that hill farmers on Dartmoor lacked confidence that those statutory agencies charged with protecting the moor all shared the same vision and that the farmers also wanted a clearer picture of what land management was required and to be part of the solution to the challenges identified. To start to address this, a Vision of what the statutory agencies wanted moorland Dartmoor to look like in 25 years’ time was produced and agreed with the farmers, along with a Vision map. The Vision identified that the future was a grazed landscape, and confirmed the role that farmers play. While this Vision remains as a locally-agreed basis around which actions can be designed, the reality is that carrying on with the status quo is unlikely to make achieving it more likely. It was against this background that the HNV-Link discussions with farmers and other stakeholders took place.
Issues identified in HNV-Link workshop
- Land abandonment happening by neglect due to poor farming, land used for other than farming and low stocking.
- Insufficient funding from agri-environment agreements (compared to previous agreements) suggests role of farmers is undervalued.
- Younger farmers more likely to push for innovation than older farmers.
- House prices more likely to impact on farm workers than established farmers. Farm labour forced to live away in towns/cities and resulting problems include problem with keeping working dogs in urban areas.
- Agriculture undervalued by politicians and public, food prices too low. Need to link food with landscape.
- There is a problem with finding labour with the skills and motivation necessary.
- Land prices likely to remain high due to tax incentives.
- “Good farming” = use all the farmland.
- Potential for premium for meat from grass fed animals (healthier – different type of fat) but still a niche market and there is Catch 22 – a marketer is needed because farmers too busy with other things; but while there has to be a critical mass to support the wage of the marketer, getting to that critical mass is difficult without a marketer. Seems very very difficult to get sellers (restaurants etc) to be faithful to a niche product (margins tight, competitors cut-throat etc), but then other places succeed in doing it.
- It is hard to finish animals without the use of bought-in protein feed.
- Farmers proud of their animals in the fields. Want the animals to be good not just at point of sale.
- Impact of public (tourists) significant for some farmers and leading to problems.
- Farmers have too little time (and skills) for developing marketing and other innovations.
- Whole farm approach = whole (farming) system approach – need innovations on inbye element to help ensure the moor bit makes sense; not always about focusing on the intensive vs. focusing on the moor.
Ideas of issues where innovations may have a role:
- Mule (Crossbred sheep with high lambing rate) group successful.
- ‘One Hut Full’ – travelling audio-visual experience in shepherd’s hut focus on wool and White-faced Dartmoors. Now used to promote wool nationally.
- Wool Fest, replicate event in Cockermouth in southern England to attract wool/fleece buyers.
- Establish local wool washing units?
- Establish retail outlet/shop for Dartmoor meat products.
- Educate chefs and retailers on use of whole carcass.
- Develop new sheep meat grid/matrix more suitable for hill breeds?
Schemes and Regulation
- A challenge fund; pot of money to enable innovation.
- Establish a research farm e.g. breeding sheep resistant to worm reduces dependency on drugs and has environmental benefits
- Schemes must be less prescriptive and encourage “real” dialogue.
- Advice on animal health (DHFP role).
- Experiment with mob grazing and other techniques, starting on new takes rather than common to test the principle without the other constraints being present.
Social & institutional
- Co-operative purchasing good idea but not successful due to under-cutting by rival firms and failure of farmers to keep commercial secrets.
- Machinery rings could avoid money being tied up in capital items that are rarely used, but geography and social factors are a barrier.
- Need for training that is comprehensive and not focused on one issue.
- Need fund for development of ideas that is not risk averse.
- Broadband still an issue.
- Need time to investigate and research issues.
Techniques & technology
- Invisible fencing/fenceless fencing need more information.
- GPS technology to track extensive grazing animals.
- How to cut and remove Molinia. Turn waste vegetation (rush, reed and grasses) into animal feed.
- Lack of advice and research related to hill farming. Need to collate experiences and experiments.
- Establish “Monitor Farms” on Dartmoor. Learn from Making Livestock Farming Profitable initiative (Ireland and Scotland).
- Consider the integration of woodland into farm business.
- Remote sensing of ovulation and similar labour-saving technology, but esp at low cost.
- After Brexit move from C ,0AP support to increased productivity anticipated, this will require new set of skills and advice (that is not available).
- Research, research into animal welfare to increase productivity without necessarily having to increase number of animals.
- Advice on animal husbandry, techniques and technical issues.
- More skilled farmer workers living close to work.
- An open fund that encourages risk and innovation.
- Educate public, potential customers, butchers, chefs but this takes time and resources that are not immediately available within community.
- Dartmoor Hill farm Project very valuable and can be more so in future.