DEFRA has revealed that the EU is pushing for changes to the single farm payment rules that could delay the main payment by at least a month.

At an EU level, changes in the rules governing the way in which the payments are made are now under discussion. 

If implemented, they would require the Rural Payments Agency to make significant changes to its IT systems. 

The result, DEFRA has indicated, is that there is a significant risk that the February payment may have to be an interim one rather than a full payment.

DEFRA says it is engaged in urgent discussions with the European Commission to try to avoid this.

Junior DEFRA minister Lord Bach said: “We are continuing to put all our effort and resources into commencing payments in February.

“We are making very clear to the commission the real risk that this poses to our starting to make full payments in February, should this element of their proposal go ahead. We should know next week if we have been successful.

“If it proves impossible to defer these changes I am determined that payments will start to be made in February, even if that involves an interim payment, with the balance following before June. 

“We are also lobbying the commission hard for the flexibility to do this. In line with best practice, we are developing contingency plans which could deliver interim payments to farmers if necessary.”