The Government is being urged to press the European Commission for an extended application deadline for the next round of the Basic Payment Scheme.
Tenant Farmers Association chief George Dunn said he fears “intolerable stress” will be placed on farmers and the Rural Payment Agency - which administers claims - without an extension beyond the May 16 deadline, because the RPA is still processing payments from last year’s scheme.
His comments come following a meeting this week of the RPA’s technical stakeholder group which involved a number of farming industry organisations who sought reassurances over the progress of applications at a time when thousands of payments are still outstanding from last year’s troubled first payment round.
After the meeting, Mr Dunn said: “With a month to the deadline the TFA viewed yesterday’s meeting as an important line in the sand. With a major mountain to climb and little confidence that there is the joint capacity to fulfil a successful 2016 campaign by the May 16 deadline, the TFA has written to Defra Minister of State for Farming, Food and the Marine Environment, George Eustice MP, to request formally that Defra applies to the European Commission for an extension to the 2016 deadline at least until the middle of June.
“Without such an extension both the RPA and BPS applicants will be placed under intolerable stress.”
But the view is not shared by the National Farmers’ Union which is concerned that any extension could compromise the RPA’s chances of fulfilling its promise to pay the majority of farmers in December 2016.
NFU senior adviser Richard Wordsworth said: “The NFU’s current view is that we should stay with the current deadline due to an number of issues, not least to ensure that the RPA deliver 90 per cent of payments before the end of the year for 2016 claims.”
RPA boss Mark Grimshaw went on record in front of MPs at a meeting of the EFRA committee last month as saying at least 90 per cent of farmers would be paid when the next payment window opens in December.
Such a performance would be quite a turnaround. A botched attempt to process applications using a costly new IT system last spring has proved a disaster for many farmers. Even now, four-and-a-half-months after the payment window opened, the RPA has, as of Thursday this week, paid just 88 per cent of 2015 claims.
Mr Grimshaw said: “I want to re-assure the industry we are handling many issues that are specifically related to year one of the new scheme - and 2016 will be different.”
A statement released by Defra intimated that the department has no plans to apply for an extension to the application window, commenting instead on how thousands of farmers had already applied for the next payment round.
The spokesperson said: “Applications for BPS 2016 are flooding in and over 10,800 online applications have been submitted via the Rural Payments service so far.”
A total of 12,200 applications for BPS 2016 had been received by the RPA - 1,400 of those by paper forms.