The NFU has added its voice to calls for cuts to direct payments to be delayed until at least December 2022, in the light of cashflow problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
NFU vice-president Tom Bradshaw has written to farming minister Victoria Prentis asking for the agricultural transition period in England to be delayed by 12 months to give farmers more time to prepare for the phasing out of the Basic Payments Scheme.
Under existing plans, payment reductions of between 5% and 25% – depending on the total value of the BPS claim – are due to be implemented in December 2021.
See also: Delay BPS cuts by a year says CLA
But Mr Bradshaw warned that Covid-19 was affecting the ability of farmers to prepare for such a change.
“We believe that Defra should delay the agricultural transition period to December 2022 at the earliest,” he said.
US announces $19bn agriculture support scheme
US farmers will receive cash payments of up to $250,000 each from a total $19bn in direct agricultural aid.
President Donald Trump announced the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program last week and said additional money may be needed to bolster the sector, with farm income estimated to drop by 20% due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Farmers and ranchers will be eligible for up to $125,000/commodity with an overall payment limit of $250,000 for each person or entity, said the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue said the USDA would move as quickly as possible to write the rules for the scheme, accept applications and issue cheques, which it is hoped will be be sent by the end of May.
The call for a delay follows a similar demand by the Country Land and Business Association.
The union has also revealed it is pushing for a guarantee that farmers will receive either their full Basic Payment or a bridging loan worth 90% of the value of their claim by early December.
It also wants the immediate payment of any outstanding 2019 Countryside Stewardship and Environmental Stewardship claims.
“The government has taken unprecedented action to protect businesses from financial trauma, but for many farmers these measures either increase the level of debt or are targeted to enterprises they do not have on farm,” said Mr Bradshaw.
“For thousands of farmers there is an immediate step that Defra could take to assist with cashflow – releasing outstanding 2019 agri-environment and BPS payments and committing to paying future payments promptly.”
The union says the current BPS application deadline can remain as 15 May, but the Rural Payments Agency should offer a penalty-free amendment period to 15 June for farmers struggling to complete their applications accurately because of social-distancing restrictions.
This would bring England closer in line with Wales – which has already announced farmers have until 15 June to submit their Single Application Form (SAF) – and the rest of Europe.
Big advance payments for EU-27
Brussels has announced a package of measures to support European farmers, which includes a delay on the BPS application deadline until June.
It also offers a 70% advance on farmers’ Basic Payment, which will be paid in mid-October, and 85% advances on payments under rural development schemes.
Fewer physical checks will also be carried out on farms to help reduce the administrative burden and avoid unnecessary delays.
BPS deadline pressure
Farmers and crofters in Scotland have been urged not to leave their Single Application Form (SAF) to the last minute this year to ease pressure on staff.
Rural affairs minister Fergus Ewing said many had already responded to a plea to get their applications in early, but more needed to do so – particularly crofters.
“We know that crofters often seek the support of our area office staff to complete and submit their SAF applications and, usually, that has involved a last minute rush in the first two weeks of May,” he said.
“In normal times, this is manageable – but these are unprecedented times.”
Mr Ewing said this year it was not possible to offer face-to-face support, or for people to simply drop by their local office.
“Phone support will inevitably take longer and I would therefore encourage you to consider submitting your application online,” he said.