Field margins© Tim Scrivener

Slippage in the timetable for agri-environment scheme payments is causing further financial pain for some farm businesses struggling to cope with the downturn in agriculture.

Farm leaders and land agents are reporting that many farmers who entered the new Countryside Stewardship scheme for January 2016 have yet to receive their first instalment.

NFU countryside adviser Claire Robinson said that about 40% of farmers in entry-level and higher-level stewardship schemes were paid in mid-November.

See also: Countryside Stewardship application levels ‘a concern’

But farmers and landowners who enrolled in Mid-Tier and Higher-Tier Countryside Stewardship agreements last autumn were complaining that they had not been paid by Natural England.

“I’m getting a lot of queries from people with Countryside Stewardship agreements about payments and when they will be getting paid,” Ms Robinson told Farmers Weekly.

“Agri-environment schemes incur costs to deliver these agreements. It’s really important that farmers are paid promptly to cover these costs.”

Ms Robinson said she understood that Natural England completed cross-checks for Countryside Stewardship agreements against Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) claims in September.

“They (Natural England) really should be getting on with payments now,” she added.

Payment uncertain

Ms Robinson said many farmers who applied for Mid-Tier Countryside Stewardship schemes starting on 1 January 2017 were also still waiting to hear if their applications were successful.

Mike Cluley, from land agents Carver Knowles, in Worcestershire, completed three applications for Countryside Stewardship agreements last year, which were accepted.

Two of the claims were worth up to £25,000 over five years. “I have spoken to all three farmers and none of them have been paid,” he said.

Another consultant, who handles claims for farmers in Norfolk, added: “I’ve not come across a single farm that has received their first Countryside Stewardship payment yet.

“All of these businesses have invested time and money in implementing their stewardship options. They don’t seem to be getting a clear message of when they will actually get paid.”

A Natural England spokesman said: “The first advance Countryside Stewardship payments started in November and will be appearing in customer accounts very shortly. Natural England is aiming to pay customers by the end of January 2017.”