TENS of thousands of acres of Yorkshire farmland may have been ploughed for the last time after the current harvest, says the Country Land and Business Association. It means the end of centuries of tradition.
The cause of this historic change is the new system of farm subsidy payments, which from this autumn will be based more on a farmers' environmental work than food production.
The move has heralded a new era in which most farmers have now contracted to provide environmental benefits, including an uncultivated strip around fields.
"It adds up to a lot of land that will no longer be productive but instead provide a haven for plants and wildlife," said CLA Yorkshire director Dorothy Fairburn. Her team of experts is unusually busy advising farmers of the complex rules that now apply.
"It's a big change to farming routine going back many years, and so in some cases farmers, land managers or their contractors will need to be reminded that in order to qualify for the new payment, they will have to comply by not establishing a crop within a metre of a ditch or two metres of a hedge. Nor must the margin be treated with herbicides."
Although arable farming does not play a large part in Yorkshire Dales agriculture, it will still mean major changes for farmers with rich "bottom land" in the area's many valleys.
Such major changes worry many farmers but they will be greeted with delight by conservationists and, in particular, fishermen because the heavy use of farm fertilisers has been a major source of pollution in the many rushing trout streams and rivers of the Dales.