Thousands of farmers kept waiting for delayed agri-environment scheme payments in England have been told they will be fully paid by the end of July.
Farmers Weekly understands that farmers and land managers with 22,500 eligible agri-environment scheme claims will be paid £115m in total in July.
The NFU said the announcement was welcome news for farmers and their families, who had delivered their side of the contract, but have had to resort to taking out loans and overdrafts because the government had not fulfilled its obligations.
Farmers and land managers enrolled in Environmental Stewardship (ES) and Countryside Stewardship (CS) agreements have faced months of delays in receiving their payments for income foregone.
This includes taking land out of production for species-rich meadows, building ponds to provide a water source for wildlife, or planting trees for carbon sequestration, which are options under ES and CS.
But in a statement on Wednesday (19 June), Defra said all farmers and land managers with unpaid annual revenue claims, some dating back to 2015, will receive a payment for the full amount they are owed by the end of July.
The Treasury will fund the payments, which will be made to farmers and land managers while their annual Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) claims from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget are processed.
The NFU said it had been lobbying the government for the past 18 months to pay thousands of farmers overdue payments for their environmental work – and the pressure had finally paid off.
NFU deputy president Guy Smith said: “This news from the RPA will help provide much-needed relief for those farming businesses waiting on outstanding Countryside Stewardship and Environmental Stewardship payments.
“We have been calling on the government to sort this out. At the NFU conference in February, Michael Gove admitted that the Countryside Stewardship scheme was ‘still in a mess’ and that the government must do better.
“The news comes as we had worked with one of our legal panel firms, Thrings, through our Legal Assistance Scheme to assist individual farmer members in pursuing their debt claims against the RPA. Hopefully this service will no longer be necessary.
“However, we will continue to monitor the situation to make sure these overdue payments are made in full and at last hit farm bank accounts”
The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) said it would be writing to all unpaid customers this week to provide an update on payments.
Once individual claims have been processed, the RPA will write again to customers to confirm any adjustments to be made to the final payment.
The future Environment Land Management (ELM) scheme, which will replace CS and ES after the UK leaves the European Union, will undergo tests and trials with farmers and industry groups before being rolled out. It is expected to be fully operational in late 2024.