FARMERS IN Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have been told they should still see their single farm payments in December.

Gareth Jones, director of the Welsh Assembly‘s Environment, Planning and Countryside Department, told a Pembrokeshire NFU conference that the RPA‘s announcement was “an unhelpful spanner in the works”.

But he added: “I believe that the Welsh Assembly will be ready to make the payments in December.”

Dairy farmer Steve Alderman, from Court Farm, Castlemartin, said after the meeting that he did not doubt Mr Jones’s sincerity, but was sceptical about his ability to deliver the promise.

“It would be iniquitous if the RPA‘s problems meant that Welsh farmers, especially those whose businesses are driven by the regular receipt of support payments, get nothing until February or later,” he added.

Since the RPA‘s announcement, the Scottish Executive has also confirmed that as it has its own computer and database it aims to begin payments early in December.

NFU Scotland said it had written to Scottish farm minister Ross Finnie stressing the importance of prompt payment, especially in this first year of SFP.

“And every indication we have is that the executive is on course to pay as soon as possible after Dec 1,” said a union spokesman.

The only possible glitch would be if there are problems with the national reserve, he added.

Colin Wilson, who farms near Dumfries in south-west Scotland, welcomed the news.

“The executive has always been pretty good at paying quickly and it looks like that’s going to continue,” he said.

A Department for Agriculture and Rural Development spokesman told FW: “It remains the intention to make payments in Northern Ireland as early as possible in the payment window which opens in December 2005.”