The Rural Payments Agency expects to start making single farm payments towards the end of February, although technical factors mean it can offer no guarantees.

Junior DEFRA minister Lord Bach told the environment, food and rural affairs select committee on Wed (11 Jan) that he was “hopeful” payments would start by the end of February.

But it was not possible to give a definite yes or no because “there are technical factors at play which may mean we can’t meet the payments.”

Lord Bach, who was quizzed with some force by EFRA chairman Michael Jack, said if it became clear that full payments were not possible than partial payments would be made.

But he stressed that partial payments had disadvantages in that farmers needed the full payments, producers wouldn’t be able to trade entitlements and partial payments could also have knock on effects for the 2006 scheme year.

MPs expressed their incredulity that the government could not give a definite answer on when payments would come, considering that February is now just weeks away.

But the minister insisted that he was not in a position to give a commitment, even though the delays are estimated to be costing farmers £25m in interest payments.