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Farming leaders call for government help with subsidies and environmental payments

PUBLISHED: 10:49 22 April 2020 | UPDATED: 10:49 22 April 2020

NFU vice president Tom Bradshaw has urged Defra to guarantee prompt farm support payments to ease cashflow issues during the coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Su Anderson

NFU vice president Tom Bradshaw has urged Defra to guarantee prompt farm support payments to ease cashflow issues during the coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Su Anderson

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Farming leaders have urged the government to delay the transition away from EU subsidies and offer immediate assistance to rural businesses with their environmental payments during the coronavirus pandemic.

With disrupted supply chains having an impact on farm cashflows, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has asked for any outstanding 2019 Countryside Stewardship and Environmental Stewardship agreements – which fund farmers for work to boost nature and wildlife – to be paid in full by the end of April, using Treasury funding if ordinary processing will not allow payments to be issued.

In a letter to farming minister Victoria Prentis, NFU vice president Tom Bradshaw has also asked for a “payment guarantee” for the 2020 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) – which distributes support subsidies to landowners – so that all claimants receive either their full payment or a bridging loan to a value of 90pc of the claim by early December 2020.

The EU’s system of direct payment subsidies is being phased out after Brexit in favour of a new system which will instead use public money to reward farmers for “public goods” such as environmental work or enhancing animal welfare.

BPS payments were due to be reduced over a seven-year transition period starting from December 2021, but Mr Bradshaw has also asked Defra to delay this transition by 12 months to give farmers more time to prepare.

Mr Bradshaw, who farms in Essex, said: “The government has taken unprecedented action to protect businesses from financial trauma, but for many farmers these measures either increase the level of debt or are targeted to enterprises they do not have on farm.

READ MORE: Farmers believe coronavirus could ‘change agriculture for the better’, says survey

“For thousands of farmers there is an immediate step that Defra could take to assist with cashflow – releasing outstanding 2019 agri-environment and BPS payments and committing to paying future payments promptly.

“Coupled with the immediate disruptive impact of Covd-19 on farmers capability to prepare for change, we believe that Defra should delay the agricultural transition period to December 2022 at the earliest.

“We do not want to see a repeat of previous failings when it comes to introducing new support schemes at this time because a desire to stick to what we see is an increasingly unrealistic original timeline.”

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