The Ulster Farmers Union has launched a stinging attack on the department of agriculture over its handling of single farm payments, pointing out that almost 20% of claimants have still not received a penny.

“The lack of cash-flow for many farmers is extremely critical,” said UFU president Campbell Tweed.

“In many cases they were depending on their SFP to pay off outstanding debts or avoid having to increase their overdraft facilities.”

The UFU says that some 8000 out of the 43,000 claimants have not received any payment.

But DARD has rejected the criticism, pointing out that Northern Ireland is performing better than other parts of the UK.

“To date payments of 131m have been made to 33,600 farmers,” said permanent secretary Pat Toal.

According to Mr Toal the biggest problem was duplicate fields – where two farmers had both claimed SFP on the same parcel of land.