Environmental stewardship payment delays are “unacceptable”, says NFU

Wildflower meadow, ox-eye daisy. Picture: James Bass

Wildflower meadow, ox-eye daisy. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2014

Delays of up to four months for agri-environment scheme payments to farmers are 'unacceptable', industry leaders have said.

Natural England has told the National Farmers' Union (NFU) that payments for Entry Level and Higher Level Stewardship (ELS/HLS) schemes will start being made in October, with the majority of transactions completed by November and December.

Last year, most payments were made in August.

The NFU says farmers in England are owed £200m this autumn for environmental measures they have carried out, and that the delays will put added cash-flow pressure on many businesses which are already struggling with low farm-gate prices.

NFU vice president Guy Smith said: 'I am extremely frustrated to learn that the first payments under the agri-environment scheme this year will not be made until October, at the earliest. This is partly due to IT failures in the spring and the extension of claim deadlines for the BPS and agri-environment scheme.

'The NFU understands that the delay is due to the need to cross-check BPS (Basic Payment Scheme) and agri-environment data as part of a requirement under EU regulations.

'The delay is completely unacceptable. At a time when markets are at their most volatile, farm-gate prices are low and farm bank accounts are stretched it is vital that farmers get the money they are owed as soon as possible. Our members will need to adjust their cash flow arrangements accordingly when this does not happen.'

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'Last year the vast majority of payments were made in August and this should be the case again this year.'

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) and Natural England statement said the agencies are 'working to ensure that agri-environment payments, under Environmental Stewardship agreements, are made as early as they can be'.