Welsh hill sheepWayne Hutchinson/FLPA/Imagebroker/REX/Shutterstock

Nearly 90% of Welsh farmers will receive their Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments in the first week of December – up 40% on last year.

A move to online-only claim applications is a reason why Wales will achieve a high level of early payments, according to the Welsh government.

On the first day of the payment window (1 December), £173m will be paid to 13,176 Welsh farmers.

See also: Hill farmers face bleak winter without full payments

Last December, when Wales was transitioning from the Single Payment Scheme, only 50% of farmers’ claims were processed ready for the start of December.

‘Exceptional performance’

Announcing the payment schedule at the Royal Welsh Winter Fair on Monday (28 November), cabinet secretary for environment and rural affairs, Lesley Griffiths, credited the “exceptional performance” this year to a move to fully digital applications.

This, said Ms Griffiths, had reduced bureaucracy and allowed applications to be processed quickly and efficiently.

The cabinet secretary also paid tribute to the farming unions and their agents for helping farmers with their applications.

“I am grateful to them, and to Welsh farmers who have embraced RPW Online and made the new system such a success,” she said.

Farmer reaction

Farming unions have welcomed the announcement.

“A return to making full payments, rather than part payments as was the case last year, alongside an improved exchange rate, up 16.5% on the 2015 rate, will be a boost not just for farmers but the thousands of rural businesses that rely heavily on farmers for much of their income,” said NFU Cymru president Stephen James.

“The improved exchange rate will help cushion the blow for the many farmers who will see their support payments fall as part of the transition from the previous historic basis of support to the new flat-rate based BPS.

FUW president Glyn Roberts thanked Welsh government staff for their hard work in getting most payments lined up.

“Last year our farmers faced a considerable delay in receiving the BPS due to the extremely complicated process of completing the Single Application Forms, so we are grateful that these problems have been resolved in most cases.”

Post-Brexit

Meanwhile, Ms Griffiths said she understood farmers’ concerns about future BPS payments post-Brexit, but offered reassurance.

“While we remain a member of the EU this scheme will continue.

“We have also received assurances from the Treasury that BPS will be fully funded until 2020.”

BPS Watch – keeping tabs on payments

Ongoing delays in 2015 support payments caused huge cashflow problems, stress and anxiety for thousands of farmers.

That is why Farmers Weekly has launched “BPS Watch”, designed to hold Defra and the Rural Payments Agency to account for their promises.

Our initiative – which will also cover Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – will focus on farmers and feature regular stories and payment updates, as we strive to keep government departments and agencies on track.