Delayed payments turn hill farmers to food banks

The NFU says that more than 1,000 hill farmers could be facing a very bleak winter.
The NFU says that more than 1,000 hill farmers could be facing a very bleak winter.
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The viability of some of Yorkshire’s most vulnerable farm businesses is at risk because many are still waiting to receive the rest of their European support payments, the National Farmer’s Union has warned.

More than 1,000 hill farmers could be facing a very bleak winter the union’s North East branch said, as it was revealed that some of those who are worst affected have resorted to food banks to support their families. In a minority of reported cases, some farmers claim not to have been paid at all.

According to the NFU, 80 per cent of the 200 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) applications made by one agent in the North York Moors alone are still awaiting payment of some form, almost 12 months after last year’s payment window opened.

In many cases the shortfall is significant, with a sample of commons in the North Pennines showing at least six commons where graziers have received no payment whatsoever, the union said.

In the South Pennines and the Yorkshire Dales farmers are confused about just how much money they are still owed, with no way of checking payments with any level of certainty, the NFU said.

As well as resorting to food banks, bailiffs turned up in one case where the farmer’s credit had ran dry, the Foundation for Common Land reported.

Figures suggest this region’s farmers are among those suffering the most, as common land makes up more than 12 per cent of farmland across Yorkshire and the North East.

Will Terry, the NFU’s regional board chairman, highlighted the situation in a letter to MPs who sit on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee.

Mr Terry, a livestock farmer based near Scarborough, emphasised the environmentally-sensitive role of commons graziers. Nationally, 83 per cent of common land is located in designated landscapes and 53 per cent in Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

“As most are marginal hill farmers, Common Agricultural Policy BPS and agri-environment payments are vital to help maintain their viability,” he wrote, adding: “Lengthy payment delays have already caused real hardship for a lot of commons graziers and any further delays as we move into winter will see many put under intense financial pressure.”

He said the NFU was urging the RPA to provide clear information on when remaining payments will be made and that it wants reassurances that unresolved problems will not spill into the next payments round.

RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw was quizzed by the EFRA committee on Tuesday and he told MPs that all BPS claimants had received at least some payment.

Mr Grimshaw confirmed 1,000 cases were still being challenged where commoners believed they had been underpaid, and vowed that all cases will be resolved by early January.

The agency chief also said that commoners will be among those who will be paid 2016 payments on the first day of the new payment window, on December 1, and that once the challenger cases have been resolved, those same farmers can expect their 2016 payments to follow immediately afterwards.

LEADSOM INVITED TO YORKSHIRE

The Environment Secretary has been invited to see first-hand the tough economic circumstances in which hill farmers are operating.

Mr Terry said he had been heartened to hear many of union’s concerns about payments for commoners raised at Tuesday’s EFRA hearing but that the NFU would be “keeping up the pressure for a speedy resolution”.

“With that in mind we have invited Defra Secretary of State Andrea Leadsom to visit the region as soon as possible to see for herself the vital role of hill and upland farmers, and the real financial hardship facing so many,” he said.