Farmers vent fury over late stewardship payments

Farmers have been sharing their personal stories of anger and frustration over the impact of late stewardship payments on their businesses.

Last week’s Farmers Weekly featured an exclusive insight into the day-to-day workings of Natural England and the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), which revealed massive disruption to environmental stewardship payments.

A source revealed that a remapping exercise by the RPA in July 2017 had caused huge complexity reconciling the land changes to original agreements under Natural England’s Genesis IT system.

See also: Source reveals Defra farm payments fiasco

Payments for Entry- and Higher-Level Stewardship (ELS/HLS) claims have subsequently faced serious delays this year of six months or more in many cases.

As a result, in September, Defra announced bridging payments, worth 75% of the claim, to all farmers awaiting payments for 2016 and 2017 claims.

Following our investigation, Farmers Weekly was contacted this week by a number of farmers and land managers in England who expressed anger over the status of their claims.

‘No communication. No explanation’

Cumbrian farmer Vaughan Hodgson, a partner at JG and DE Hodgson, based in Wigton, said he had not received any money for year six (2017) of his 10-year HLS agreement.

“There is no communication, no explanation. We haven’t even had a bridging payment,” said Mr Hodgson.

“We have already undertaken this work, but we have not received a penny. It’s an unfortunate position not of the farmer’s making.

“You call them up and you just keep getting fobbed off. It’s bad management from Defra’s point of view. It’s not the first time this has happened, and I suspect it won’t be the last.”

No bridging payment

Robert Gooch, director of The Wild Meat Company, based in Suffolk, told Farmers Weekly he had not received any bridging payment for his organic ELS and HLS agreements for his farm.

Mr Gooch said whoever completed the remapping exercise for his farm had incorrectly created new land parcels out of existing fields made up of ditches, hedges and margins.

Bedfordshire arable farmer Michael Whitlock entered the Countryside Stewardship scheme in January 2017. He has not been paid anything for work completed in 2017 or 2018.

“I’m just about to order bird food to feed the birds during the winter, which costs quite a bit of money,” he said.

“I still haven’t been paid for the work I did two years ago and I can’t understand why.”

The RPA said it was focused on making the stewardship payments as quickly as possible.