The Welsh Assembly’s rural affairs minister Elin Jones has admitted letting down hundreds of farmers by suspending applications for the Tir Cynnal entry level agri-environment scheme for two years.

Ms Jones told NFU Cymru’s centenary conference, at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, that it had been a “particularly difficult and complex decision” to take after four times the expected number of farmers put her budget under pressure by applying for the Organic Conversion Scheme.

“I had to consider whether I could honour payments to farmers who had started the conversion process, and entailed costs in the expectation that these costs would be met,” Ms Jones said.

“It was legal advice to me, and also my view, that I had to increase the Organic Conversion Scheme budget.”

This meant disappointing Tir Cynnal applicants, who had not incurred extra costs, until after the Axis 2 review.

“I have learned a valuable lesson from this and in future the OCS will not be demand-led as having it demand-led means there is no budgetry control.”

The OCS application system was being reviewed and Ms Jones hoped that the Tir Cynnal applicants she had let down would understand the reasons.

But she had good news for the majority of Welsh farmers. It appeared that more than 80% of single farm payments would reach farmers’ bank accounts by Christmas, and civil servants were also working hard to expedite the rest.

However the minister acknowledged that work on SFPs had involved resources that could have been used for cross-checking over 400 applications for payment by farmers signed up to Tir Gofal, the main Welsh agri-environment scheme.

There were problems reconciling information on two different sets of maps, but EU rules dictated that anomalies farmers saw as very minor must be sorted out before payments were made.

“However, I have been assured that every effort is being made to complete these checks as quickly as possible.”