In North-western Europe, most of the land mass is classified as Less Favoured Area (LFA) under European designation and hill farms in these areas are a major contributor to the rural industry. Scotland alone is no different, as its rural land-based industry is fragile and has been dependent for many decades on high and continued levels of support payments. With recent agricultural policy reforms and changes in support for hill farmers, the future of these farming businesses is uncertain, and one purpose of this paper is to understand how they have already responded and might respond to further policy changes. This is not only important for the land use economy but also for the wider Scottish rural community and environment. Data from three regions, typical of hill farming areas in mainland Scotland, was collated in 2007; firstly from a postal survey with 47 respondents, followed by 30 face-to-face on-farm interviews. Farmers were asked to consider three time periods (2001â€“2005; 2005â€“2007; 2008â€“2013) and to detail any changes they had made, or planned to make, in their management and livestock numbers. During the interviews, additional questions regarding their motivations, drive and constraints were also asked. Fifty-three percent of the farmers surveyed had made major management changes in 2001â€“2005; 49% made changes in 2005â€“2007 and 53% projected to do so in 2008â€“2013. The main reported change was a decrease in animal numbers, due to economic factors, such as costs of labour and feed, and loss of subsidies. Multivariate analysis (Principal Coordinate and Cluster Analysis) of the results identified 3 clusters of farmers. Subsequent ANOVA and Chi-square analyses on the clusters showed that age, education, impact on farm labour, and impacts of neighbouring farms and their livestock reductions, were the most important factors that separated these clusters. Cluster 1 (adaptive farmers) broadly represented extensive sheep farms with farmers, who could and did diversify their income; they were also older and had the highest level of education. It was found that their animal management was greatly influenced by their neighboursâ€™ decisions. Cluster 2 (focused farmers) was reflective of relatively more intensive sheep and beef farms, with no direct interest in farm diversification. Cluster 3 (resource constrained farmers) comprised very large extensive sheep and beef farms, which were also limited by their resources. Most â€˜adaptiveâ€™ and â€˜focusedâ€™ farmers planned to further modify their management in 2008â€“2013. Declining stock numbers in the study farms were consistent with trends in agricultural census data following the latest CAP reforms. However, the typology gave more insight of the differing farmersâ€™ motivation and constraints when faced with reforms; this indicated that policy development should rely on multi-faceted data sources. The interdependency and fragility of these varied hill systems was highlighted by this study, pointing out the value of more targeted delivery of policy mechanisms to reflect such diversity. This is not unique to Scotland and reflects similar experiences elsewhere in Europe's marginal agricultural areas.
- Hill farming
- Multivariate analysis