Farmers in England are to be given an extra month to submit their 2020 basic payment and agri-environment scheme applications.
In a statement on Monday (27 April), the government confirmed that the window to submit applications for Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments and to make a Countryside Stewardship (CS), Environmental Stewardship (ES) and woodland revenue legacy payments will be extended by one month.
Farmers, land managers and agents now have until 15 June to apply for and make claims for these schemes.
The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) warned Defra it must not use the extension as an excuse to make late payments for farmers, especially since cashflow is already tight on many farms.
Defra said it had decided to extend the deadline by one month to allow for the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic and help customers to avoid financial penalties for late submissions.
Farmers and land managers are still being encouraged to submit their applications online for BPS and CS through the Rural Payments Service as soon as they are able to do so.
Defra says its Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has already received a “large number of applications”.
The RPA says it will continue to monitor the situation carefully and provide further assistance to support farmers.
Applications for new CS Higher Tier and Mid Tier agreements are still being accepted ahead of their respective deadlines of 1 May and 31 July 2020.
RPA chief executive Paul Caldwell said: “We are fully focused on making vital payments to the rural community and helping customers submit their claims during this difficult period.
“We know the coronavirus is causing issues where farmers are unable to meet their targets, so we are making this extension to allow more time for the farming community to submit their applications and claims without penalty.”
Natural England and the Forestry Commission are continuing to provide advice by phone or video call for land managers developing Higher Tier applications in time for the 1 May application deadline, so that schemes can be progressed in the absence of a site visit.
George Dunn, TFA chief executive, said: “While there are some who would not have been able to make the 15 May deadline for BPS and stewardship claims given the current Covid-19 restrictions, it is disappointing that a more innovative solution was not forthcoming to keep the 15 May deadline for the vast majority of individuals while providing specific measures for those with difficulties.
“However, now that the decision has been made to move the deadlines to June, we must not see this being used as an excuse for making late payments under these schemes. It is essential for the cashflow of farming businesses that there is no delay to making payments.
“Many farmers are still awaiting payment of 2019 stewardship claims, which must also be resolved without further delay.”
Welsh farmers have already been handed a one-month extension to their Single Application Form deadline to 15 June. Similar announcements to BPS extensions could be made soon in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
For full details, see Gov.UK.