Slow speeds have become the latest problem to hamper farmers trying to apply for the new Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).
The mapping tool, which applicants must use to make changes to their land details, such as adding hedges or trees, has started to come online since 4 February.
Since then, Defra’s CAP delivery programme team has been updating the service with new features and it has warned farmers that some pages have been “running slowly”.
Defra said some registered applicants, who were trying to edit their land details, were receiving a message, saying: “Something went wrong.”
On its CAP reform blog, Defra said it was “working hard to resolve this issue” and told applicants “thanks for bearing with us”.
But Wiltshire land agent WebbPaton said it was “very concerned” about the slow progress and fragility of the software BPS mapping tool.
Timetable for BPS rollout
- January/February – Farmers and landowners register for BPS
- February – Registered applicants should check land details including land use and cover
- March – Sort out entitlements and eligibility
- April/May – Submit BPS claim
Consultant George Paton told Farmers Weekly that up to Tuesday (10 February), his firm had started adding the mapping details for about 10 of its 118 clients.
“We haven’t been able to finish it as it has been so slow,” he said. “It really needs a fast broadband speed.
“We have 5Mbps broadband in the office and it was taking two minutes a field to save the details.”
His comments come after MPs warned this week the government’s universal service commitment for broadband of 2Mbps was “already outdated”.
A CAP contingency plan is needed if the system “proves difficult to use for farmers with limited broadband facility”, said a report by the Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs select committee.
CAP expert Alice de Soer of the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers said: “The initial functionality on the system has not been working as well as hoped and has been frustratingly slow, but we hope that improvements will be seen soon.
“It is imperative that we have a system fit for purpose to allow everyone to complete the information needed by 15 May.”
Richard Wordsworth, NFU senior BPS adviser, said rolling out the IT was critical to allow farmers to get on the system, check data and build up their claims to submit in good time.
“There is a lot to do and fewer days to do it now than this time last week,” he added. “We are sure the RPA will sort the teething problems, but we need this to happen quickly.
“At this time the key is for those who have not yet registered to do so. There are still over 50% of farmers to register.”
With a 15 May deadline for submissions – now just 13 weeks away – the RPA said 30,000 out of an expected 100,000 eligible farm businesses in England had now registered for the scheme.
Glen Portman of the Defra CAP delivery programme, said: “We updated the service with new features at the start of February so that customers can begin to build their BPS claim.
“As is usual with all digital services, there have been some initial issues with those features – such as the slow running of the service when customers edit a land parcel – which we are working hard to fix.
“Our approach is to build the service in stages and make improvements as we go, in response to the lessons learned during the last round of CAP reform.
“The benefit of this is that we have the ability to keep making the service better based on feedback from our customers – but we need customers to bear with us while we make sure the service is right.
“From March, we will be updating the service in stages to allow customers to do more with their land online, such as land transfers and to build other parts of their claim like entitlements. We are encouraging all customers to go to www.gov.uk/rural-payments to register now.”