The government is deciding whether to give farmers an extra month to submit 2016 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) applications.
The European Union has confirmed it is prepared to allow member states to extend the deadline for farmers to submit their BPS 2016 aid application from 16 May to 15 June.
Brussels says it is entirely a matter for individual governments to decide whether to avail themselves of the flexibility being offered to them.
Slow payments by the Rural Payments Agency for BPS 2015 have raised fears that many farmers will be unable to make an accurate claim for 2016 by the 16 May deadline.
But farm leaders are divided over whether extending the deadline would be beneficial – or whether it would cause unwanted knock-on effects.
The RPA is advising farmers to complete and submit their 2016 application before the deadline – even if they are waiting for the balance of their 2015 payment.
With about 55% of anticipated 2016 claims already submitted or under way, we are helping those still to apply to meet the 16 May deadline RPA chief executive, Mark Grimshaw
But the Tenant Farmers’ Association has warned that the agency has a “huge mountain to climb” if the deadline is to be met because unfinished business from 2015 is “dragging it back”.
The TFA wants the 16 May deadline extended – although there are concerns that doing so could result in delayed payments to farmers again later this year.
EU farm commissioner Phil Hogan said: “It is anticipated that this relaxation of the rules will help some farmers with specific difficulties in submitting their application/claims in time.
“Member states that decide to postpone the final date for submission of aid application must still ensure that rules on sound financial management are respected.” Defra has yet to confirm whether it would extend the deadline for farmers in England.
Meanwhile, the RPA says it met its target of ensuring all eligible farmers received a bridging payment or their full Basic Payment Scheme by the end of April.
More than 90% of eligible farmers in England received their full basic payment for 2015 by 30 April, said the agency.
In addition, more than 7,000 farmers were given bridging payments of about 50% of their anticipated claim amounts for 2015, it added.
Bridging payments to farmers were announced in mid-April after the agency failed to meet its previous target to pay the vast majority of farmers by the end of March.
“These payments have been made by the end of April, as promised, to help remaining applicants facing financial pressures,” said RPA chief executive said Mark Grimshaw.
Mr Grimshaw said: “With about 55% of anticipated 2016 claims already submitted or under way, we are helping those still to apply to meet the 16 May deadline.”