Harvest in the countryside©Juice/Rex Shutterstock

Agri-environment payments to the value of £70m will start hitting farmers’ bank accounts in the next few days, according to Natural England.

The government’s conservation body says that by the start of next week the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) should have made payments to 25,521 farmers. This equates to 53% of claimants.

A spokeswoman for the organisation said it had pledged to start making payments in October and was pleased to be able meet that commitment.

See also: Defra accused of hoarding agri-environment cash

A huge amount of work had been completed over the past two months to get everything in place, she said. But this had allowed staff to process the information required to start payments in just 24 hours.

A data file had since been sent to the RPA, which should enable it to start payments at the end of this week, she added.

“Hopefully, it should start appearing in people’s bank accounts very shortly.”

Natural England had originally told the NFU that while it would start payments in October, the bulk were likely to be made in November and December.

However, payments will only be 50% of the value of each claim, as Defra has declined to take up the European Commission’s offer that farmers can this year get a first payment of 85% to help ease cashflow problems.

Guy Smith, NFU vice-president, said while it was welcome news for the 53%, considering the payments were for income already forgone, it could have been paid from August and the fact that Defra had turned down the option to pay 85% makes it difficult to be positive.

“When you hear news that half of us will be paid half the amount outstanding you tend to conclude that the glass isn’t a quarter full, it’s three-quarters empty.

“We call on Defra to get all this money out as soon as possible. It is £400m that’s owing to farmers, many if whom are experiencing cashflow problems.”