Farm leaders are becoming increasingly nervous that governments will fail to make early support payments in the grip of one of the worst cashflow crises the industry has faced.
With just three weeks to go before Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments to 88,000 English farmers are expected to start, the NFU said there were still too many questions regarding the timing of payments.
Senior Rural Payments Agency (RPA) officials were due to meet stakeholders, including the NFU, Country Land & Business Association and the Tenant Farmers Association on Friday (6 November) to give an update on the payments schedule.
In a statement issued on Wednesday (4 November), the RPA said it had completed land and entitlement transfer processing and would write to farmers and agents to confirm this “in the coming weeks”.
A spokesman said: “The RPA remains on track to make full BPS payments as early as possible in the payment window with the majority before the end of December and the vast majority by the end of January 2016.”
But Richard Wordsworth, the NFU’s senior BPS adviser, said farmers were feeling “nervous” about how the payments timetable would develop in the next two to three months.
“The window opens in 25 days. In normal years, the RPA would have tens of thousands of claims sitting there, waiting to validate. I don’t think we are currently in that situation,” he added.
“If a large number of payments go out in December/January, that would be great. But what about those farmers who won’t be paid during this time?
“How quickly will they be able to get those payments out to farmers who rely on the money to pay bills, including lease agreements, tax returns, mortgage payments and rents?”
Mr Wordsworth said farm cashflow had been worsened by late payments for agri-environment schemes, such as ELS and HLS. Some farmers were still awaiting payments that were already two months late, he added.
North of the border, the Scottish government admitted that “time is running out” to begin payments before the end of the year to its 21,000 farmer applicants.
A government spokesman blamed a “more complex” new CAP system and a lack of flexibility from the European Commission concerning farm inspection requirements.
NFU Scotland urged the Scottish government to make a “clear statement on when support payments will be made, and what value will be attached to those payments”.
But there was better news for farmers in Wales after the Welsh government said part CAP payments would start during December – and it expected to reach 70-80% of the anticipated entitlement value that month. The balance will be paid between April and June 2016.