The main single farm payment may be delayed by a month because the EU Commission has suggested proposals that would force the Rural Payments Agency to rewrite its computer software.

The commission has suggested changes to EU rules to allow member states to make advance SFP payments to farmers if they want to.

But the EU has complicated matters by tacking on to the proposal a requirement for member states to re-order the sequence in which they make deductions for things like modulation or penalties.

A DEFRA source said if the proposal was agreed, the RPA would have to go back to the drawing board on its software and this would add at least a month onto the main payment timetable.

The RPA has previously said that it should start payments in February 2006 and would have 96% complete by the end of March.

“We are lobbying the commission to get them to change their mind on this,” said the source.

Martin Howarth, policy director for the NFU, said the fact the commission was putting mechanisms in place to allow an interim payment was to be welcomed.

But he did not understand why it was so anxious about the sequence of deductions.

“I think DEFRA will be arguing against this and we will also be talking to the commission saying: Don’t do this’,” he said.
Junior DEFRA minister Lord Bach said any changes to the EU rules were unwelcome at such a late stage.

“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,” he said.

The RPA’s chief executive Johnston McNeill is due to address NFU Council on Monday (10 October) to give a progress report on the single payment scheme.

See next week’s Farmers Weekly for a full report.