Farmers and their representatives are demanding urgent answers from the Rural Payments Agency which admitted this week (Wed, 8 March) that just 3042 out of 120,000 producers had received their single farm payment.

The NFU and Country Land and Business Association have sent a joint open letter to RPA chief executive Johnston McNeill accusing the agency of providing poor quality information (see p8 for more) and failing to fulfil its promises.

The letter, which warns that farmers are angry and frustrated, explains that the two organisations have serious concerns about the performance of the RPA.

It also expresses concern that a senior RPA official has indicated during the last two stakeholder meetings that he regards 30 Jun as the real deadline for payments, not the end of March.

NFU president Peter Kendall said: “The SPS was meant to herald a simplification in the support regime.

The industry is keen to move forward, but we cannot if the RPA continues to stretch deadlines and leave questions unanswered.”

David Fursdon, CLA president, added:

“The situation is depressing.

We are happy to work in partnership, but the RPA has to treat us as partners.”

An RPA spokesman confirmed that the letter had been received by Mr McNeill and he would respond to it.

On the issue of payments, the spokesman admitted progress has been slow this week as the system has thrown up a number of claim batches which required investigation.

“Those issues have now been resolved and we are picking up pace again on payments.

“There will be periodic peaks and troughs in the payment cycle as we progress, which in isolation do not give an accurate picture of overall progress.

Our next significant milestone is the end of March, by which time we aim to have met our target of making the bulk of payments and we continue working towards that.”

Speaking at the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers annual conference on Tuesday (7 March), junior DEFRA minister Lord Bach called for farmers to show patience.

Payments to “well over 50%” of qualifying claimants would be made by the end of March and all would be out by the EU deadline of 30 June, he claimed.