Scottish upland farm©Rex

There are just three weeks left until the application window opens for the new online single farm payment scheme in Scotland.

As Scotland makes the complex move from historic to area-based payments, more than 100 Rural Payments and Services (RPS) staff are on standby in area offices across the country.

They will assist farmers to register on a new online system, which will deliver almost £4bn of CAP support over the next five years. 

See also: NFUS president calls for action on CAP funds, GMs and tenancy reform

The Scottish government’s new £138m computer system is on target to begin processing farmers’ completed Single Application Forms (SAF) as soon as submissions open in just over three weeks.

The submission window for SAF will open in mid-March and applications need to be completed before 15 May.

Already, more than 7,000 of the 22,000 expected registrations have been received and RPS has helped 116 farmers complete the process in face-to-face sessions.

How Rural Payments and Service is being phased in

  • End 2014 – The first part of the online services was launched. This includes improved guidance, online land maps and improved customer service.
  • January 2015 – Open for customer registration, allowing farmers to create an account and check their personal, business and land information.
  • During 2015 – Deliver the CAP reform requirements, including a new single online application for some of the schemes early in the year and improved management information and reporting.
  • By end 2017 – The online system will be built up to offer a range of services aimed at helping customers manage their businesses/projects more easily.

The Scottish government has pledged to “work hard” to make payments to farmers at the beginning of December as usual, even though parts of the system are still in the development stage.

At a preview of the new online SAF in Perth, the country’s chief agricultural officer David Barnes said farmers could receive one-to-one support and guidance on registering and completing the SAF submissions.  But he urged them not to delay.

“As with any new system, we expect to have a few teething problems and will work hard to resolve any issues as they come to light and we welcome feedback from customers,” he said.

“Whatever issue farmers come across we urge them to tell us early, whether it’s a question of which region a field falls into, or eligibility or the registration process, the sooner we know, the sooner we can resolve it.”

Under the old system, 60% of Scottish producers made funding applications online and RPS expects the percentage to rise this year.

In areas where broadband is poor or non-existent, farmers are encouraged to use libraries, agents or the facilities in local area offices.

However farmers will still have the option of applying for CAP support on a paper form.

“If all else fails the paper option will be available,” said Mr Barnes. “But there are many benefits built in to the online system and the definite direction of travel is towards having everything computerised.”

The online system includes an up-to-date mapping function that will allow farmers and crofters to view current maps and boundaries in real-time.

The system will also flag up errors automatically, thereby avoiding delays to payments, and data can be stored online for future reference.

Mr Barnes said the rolling out of the new system was one of the biggest challenges his department had ever faced.

He added: “It’s very important because it’s a huge investment of taxpayers’ money in support of a sector that plays a vital role in Scotland’s economy and culture.”

Meanwhile, the system is undergoing rigorous testing, including making it “hacker-proof”.  A disaster recovery plan has been built in.