Coronavirus: Defra to pay 75% stewardship bridging loans

Farmers and land managers in England are to be offered bridging payments for unpaid claims on their stewardship agreements.

The interest-free loans will cover Countryside Stewardship (CS) and Environmental Stewardship (ES) 2019 payments to ensure farmers are paid for the important work they do to protect the environment.

Eligible claimants will received a payment in May of 75% of the current estimated value of their claims to help farm businesses with cashflow while the remaining processing work is completed on their claims.

See also: Coronavirus: Applying for farm support schemes

This follows the announcement by Defra of a one-month extension to the application window for farmers to submit their basic payment claims to allow for any disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The new deadline to submit claims to the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is 15 June 2020.

George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers’ Association (TFA), said farmers would welcome the news of stewardship bridging loans to help support cashflow through the Covid-19 crisis.

‘Poor performance’

But he added: “It was clear that the RPA’s poor performance to date would have meant a significant shortfall in payments by the end of the regulatory window for payments in June. 

“However, the RPA must ensure to continue its work to finalise claims so that, in the vast majority of cases, the remaining 25% of the payments can be delivered by the end of June.”

Defra has not released any updated figures on the number of 2019 CS and ES claims it has processed to date. In early March, almost two-thirds of farmers were still waiting for their CS cash.

RPA chief executive Paul Caldwell said: “These bridging payments will help to tide farmers and land managers over in May before their claims are paid.”

The RPA will be writing to farmers and land managers to provide an update on bridging payments and how they will be calculated.

No bridging loans will be made for 2019 BPS claims, as 99% of these claims had already been processed, Defra said.