Farm leaders may have expressed relief at the government announcement that full single farm payments in England will start in late February.

But they have added that they are very worried that the Rural Payments Agency has admitted that it is unlikely to meet its original target of completing 96% of payments by the end of March.

Junior DEFRA minister Lord Bach announced on Tuesday (31 January) that full payments would start “at the end of February” and “the bulk” would be completed in March.

“I am very pleased to confirm what we said more than a year ago – that full payments will begin in February. I hope this announcement will provide some reassurance to the farming industry.”

David Fursdon, president of the Country Land and Business Association, said the fact that full, rather than partial, payments would start in February was to be welcomed.

“However, statements are merely words and our members will not be happy until they receive the money upon which their businesses and livelihoods depend.

“Also we want to see what constitutes ‘the bulk’ of payments. We are very concerned about those who fall foul of the system in some way, particularly as it is not their fault. The RPA must pay attention to the needs of the minority, as well as the majority.”

NFU president Tim Bennett said despite the minister’s reassurances, the union was concerned about the amount of work the RPA still had to get through.

The agency had hundreds of thousands of tasks still to complete and queries about national reserve allocations could also slow down progress.

“The RPA must make sure it gets as close to its original 96% target as possible. We will maintain pressure on it to respect that,” he said.

“If a small percentage of farmers cannot be paid because of unresolved queries about some element of their claim, the RPA must make advance payments based on the part of their claim that has been validated.”