Together hill and upland agriculture (LFA) currently utilizes from 44% of the land area of the UK and employs directly some 126,000 people. An estimate of gross output from these sectors in 1990 was around £1.3 billion. These data indicate that there can be little doubt about the significance of agriculture and livestock production in hill and upland areas. Since the Second World War output has increased substantially by virtue of a better control of sheep diseases, improved grazing management, sheep and cattle husbandry and the financial incentives offered by successive governments for land improvement, fencing and buildings. However, these incentives have not in themselves led to an economically viable agriculture for most hill and upland areas.
It is questionable if it was ever the intention of any UK government that financial support for the hill and upland livestock industries to improve productivity was the sole objective of their policies for hill and upland areas. While it has always been the case that Agricultural Departments have had the major responsibility for administering the major financial support, the reason for doing so has been as much to do with a social policy of making it possible for people to live in the remoter countryside as it has been to do with improving the output and viability of agriculture.
It is therefore inconceivable that support for hill and upland economies will be withdrawn. It may be, however, that the amount of support will become less as the Common Agriculture Policy is reformed and that element of support which is currently attached to product price is progressively removed. For the future, the indications are that support is much more likely to continue on the basis of headage payments related to breeding livestock quotas and linked to specific management protocols to meet conservation and wider environmental objectives.
Even with the levels of financial support that can be reasonably expected over the next decade, the financial constraints upon, or the opportunities that may arise for individual land owners will inevitably lead to land being removed from agriculture.
However, it is likely that livestock production will continue to dominate much of the hill and upland areas within a management context which will reflect the size of the business, the need to meet specific environmental objectives and the range of other activities and employment opportunities with which the farm household is involved.
Although we must expect that the economics of animal production in the hill and upland areas of the UK will no longer justify a continuation of farming in some areas, the great majority of farms will continue to adopt more efficient technologies, improve their breeding programme and adapt their land management rôle to meet the needs of conservation and the maintenance and enhancement of landscape quality.