Industry leaders have again raised concerns about problems with the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) approach to remapping farms.
Inaccuracies, poor communication and lack of resources threaten to delay support payments, which are due to start reaching farmers in early December, said the NFU.
NFU vice-president Guy Smith has urged the RPA to up its game ahead of an “inevitable increase” in communications resulting from the current remapping exercise.
At the same time, the NFU is urging farmers and their agents to check any updated maps as they become available over the coming weeks.
A lack of manpower was continuing to affect the service provided by the RPA and threatened to delay payments to farmers, suggested Mr Smith.
‘Wall of silence’
“Due to a clear lack of resource, many farmers who have been trying to contact them about 2015 and 2016 claim issues going back as far as last spring are only met with a wall of silence.”
Mr Smith said the RPA appeared to have undertaken a “stealth policy that minimises outbound contact as much as possible” with farmers.
“This seems self-defeating, as it will only lead to more frustration and further inbound correspondence from farmers which could be avoided,” he said.
NFU members are worried that incorrectly recorded data from the past two years would lead to further inaccuracy for this year’s claims, added Mr Smith.
The current remapping exercise could affect agri-environment schemes as well as basic payments to farmers, he warned.
Farm accountants, agents and business advisers have also voiced concern about changes to their land parcels and consequent anomalies concerning 2017 basic payments.
Martyn Dobinson, senior manager at accountants Saffery Champness, said the RPA had previously used satellite aerial imagery to update its mapping, sometimes incorrectly.
“Changes were being shown on the RPA system and a number of farmers have had to re-add features that the RPA system had removed,” he said.
“Many land parcels and boundaries had also been mixed up between neighbouring farms.” Mr Dobinson said he understood these glitches had increased by about one-third the amount of time taken to process 2017 BPS applications.
Areas most affected appeared to be Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Kent.
Farmers should log into their RPA account regularly to check that any changes had been correctly identified by the agency, said Mr Dobinson.
An RPA spokesperson said: “As required by the European Commission, we update our digital land maps throughout the year.
“Updates are based on the latest information from farm inspections, aerial photography and the Ordnance Survey, as well as following requests for changes from applicants.
“Latest information is available on GOV.UK and we have provided updates to farmers and industry representatives to keep them informed. “Maps can be checked online using the Rural Payments Service. Information on how to tell RPA about changes to mapping can be found on GOV.UK.”