Countryside Stewardship payment delays compounded by flooding

There are concerns at the delay in Countryside Stewardship (CS) payments, with farmers already struggling financially after devastating floods.

Farmers were told they would receive a single payment between December last year and June 2020 for CS claims submitted in 2019.

But, more than two months into the payment window, NFU deputy president Guy Smith said “most” are still waiting for the vital income as the industry prepares for the biggest shake-up in agricultural support for decades.

See also: Tips for applying for Countryside Stewardship in 2020

Coupled with the storms that have battered farms and left fields submerged, farmers are now facing increasing financial pressure.

Mr Smith said: “Farmers need this money in their bank accounts sooner rather than later.

“Speaking to members, it is pretty clear most are still waiting for their Countryside Stewardship payments; myself included.”

He said the delay does nothing to inspire confidence in those thinking of applying for this year’s CS schemes, which have just opened.

He added: “We need Countryside Stewardship back on track. The Environmental Land Management scheme doesn’t launch until 2024 at the earliest.

“The next five years could be testing ones for the thousands of farmers who are coming out of a current Entry Level Stewardship or Higher Level Stewardship scheme.”

A Defra spokesperson said:  “We are working closely with the Rural Payments Agency to look at all the available options to support farmers who are impacted by wet weather issues and we remain committed to ensuring remaining payments are made as quickly as possible.”

By 20 January, Defra said £7.64m in CS agreements have been paid, compared with £1.23m in the same time period last year. There is no specified total cash pot for CS.

It added that the move to one single payment within the six-month window (December-June) has meant farmers have started to receive their CS and Environmental Stewardship money four months earlier than last year.