FARMERS have expressed frustration at the incremental distribution of new agri-environment payments, as Natural England moved to reassure farmers that it is working to get the funds out to its customers as early as it can.
It was announced this week that just under half (47 per cent) of agri-environment scheme claimants will not be receiving payments next week, despite those farmers having already satisfied demands to deliver environmental benefits on their farmland to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds.
The National Farmers’ Union is urging the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to make sure its agencies deliver the payments as soon as possible. Speaking on behalf of the union’s members, NFU vice-president Guy Smith said: “For 53 per cent of claimants, it will be good to see at least some of the payment hit the account but these payments were expected two months ago. It’s certainly difficult to see the positives in this situation.
“It’s very frustrating that such a large proportion of claimants are not going to receive any payment as part of the agri-environment scheme next week.”
Mr Smith added: “We are strongly urging Defra to resolve any issues that are holding payments speedily to enable quick payment. Many farmers face serious cash flow issues while they are owed £400million for work they have already done for this scheme.”
The NFU’s frustration is heightened further by Defra’s decision to pay just 50 per cent of the value of agri-environment payments after rejecting the European Commission’s offer to pay 85 per cent in the first instalment.
The package, offered by the EU’s Agricultural Commissioner Phil Hogan last month, was designed to support farmers as many are experiencing severe cash flow problems as a result of low commodity prices across all farming sectors.
The decision to not take advantage of the package is unacceptable, Mr Smith said.
“Another negative announcement from Defra on the agri-environment is leading more and more farmers to believe it’s a case of the glass is less a quarter full than it is three quarters empty,” he said.
“It’s extremely disappointing that just half of the value of the claim going to just over half of the claimants.
“I must reiterate that rest of the money owed on this scheme needs to be paid to farmers as early as possible.
“These announcements will do nothing to encourage farmers to think positively about the new Countryside Stewardship schemes.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for Natural England told Country Week: “In September, we made a commitment to start making advance payments for Environmental Stewardship agreements from October, with the majority by November and December.
“Both Natural England and the Rural Payments Agency understand the importance of agri-environment payments to the rural community and we are working together to get these out to our customers as early as possible.”