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More than 54,000 farmers in England were paid their 2017 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) money in the first week of the payment window.

Official figures released by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) on Friday (8 December) show 63% of eligible claimants received their BPS cash between 1 and 6 December.

However, the RPA said the value of payments made so far is £850m, which the NFU estimates is about half the total BPS pot for England.

See also: EFA rule changes – what farmers in England need to know

The RPA said those paid subsidies so far included “a range of 2017 BPS claim types and sizes, as well as those inspected and farmers with common land”.

The RPA has committed to pay at least 90% of claimants – approximately 78,300 out of a total of about 87,000 – by 31 December 2017. The payment window closes on 30 June 2018.

RPA chief executive Paul Caldwell said: “We are making strong progress against last year’s performance and remain focused on getting remaining payments out as quickly as possible, as I understand how important they are for farmers.”

Increased values

Thanks to increased entitlement values and greening rates, coupled with the favourable BPS exchange rate confirmed in September, Basic Payments will be worth 25% more on average this year, compared with 2016.

However, news that almost two-thirds of farmers in England have received their Basic Payments will be of little consolation to more than 33,000 eligible claimants who face an anxious wait to see if they will be paid their BPS subsidies this side of Christmas.

Responding to the RPA’s payment announcement on Twitter, NFU vice-president Guy Smith said it was a “good start”. But Mr Smith later stressed that the RPA should pay bridging loans to the 5-10% of farmers who will be made to wait for their BPS money until 2018.

At the very least, the RPA should inform all claimants who will not be paid in December by letter, so they can plan their businesses accordingly, he added.

In contrast to England, more than 90% of eligible claimants in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have already received their 2017 BPS money, either through an interest-free loan or a straightforward payment.

The RPA said it remains focused on processing payments as quickly as possible, maintaining similar levels of performance on BPS payments to those seen in 2016.

The agency said further updates on figures will be made throughout the payment window on the website.