Late payments lead to doubts over agri-environment scheme commitment

The Welsh Assembly’s commitment to agri-environment schemes has been called in to question after payments to farmers have been delayed.

Farmers Union of Wales members told Lib Dem assembly minister Mick Bates they had been left waiting for months for money.

Steve Smith, who farms at Penbryn Farm, Castle Caereinion, said his payment had been delayed when he was served with a mapping query involving 0.03ha of land.

“I understand there is just one project officer in my area and all environmental schemes have gone pear-shaped since the assembly took control from the Countryside Council for Wales,” Mr Smith said.

Susan Jones, FUW executive officer for Montgomeryshire, said reconciling maps drawn up for each scheme with single farm payment maps had thrown up many enquiries. Issues settled in 2007 were arising again this year.

“Often a tiny area of land is involved – a typical mapping query would be over 0.01ha,” said Mrs Jones. “But SFP, agri-environment scheme and organic payments can be delayed for many months.”

Tenant farmer Alan Hughes said he had been waiting for £11,000 in Tir Gofal and Organic Scheme payments until just a few days before the on-farm meeting.

“Delays affect cashflow and can lead to expensive borrowings,” he added.

Mr Bates admitted he had received many complaints and was pressing the assembly to make interim payments until queries were settled.

“Farmers who responded to calls for them to farm in environmentally friendly ways now tell me they have completely lost confidence in the schemes,” he said.

Mr Bates said there should be an express protocol to tackle mapping anomalies thrown up by computers, many of which could be solved using common sense.

He was also unhappy about the assembly’s decision to switch funds from the Tir Gofal and Tir Cynnal agri-environment schemes to boost organic support by £6.8m.

An assembly spokesman said EU rules dictated that applications for various schemes must be validated against a farmer’s single application form.

This meant that farmers who signed Tir Gofal agreements before January 2007 could not be paid on the anniversary of signing, as they were in the past.

Payments would be delayed until any anomalies between different application forms were resolved.

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