Cash-starved farmers have started to receive their Basic Payments, with more than 90% of claimants on course to be paid by the end of December.
The BPS payment window opened on Thursday (1 December) with payment agencies reporting they were on track to pay the vast majority of claims by the end of this month.
For those farmers who will be paid promptly, the money will come as a huge relief amid a downturn in farming and the legacy of last year’s BPS IT payments fiasco, which saw tens of thousands of farmers left out of pocket for months.
However, the NFU is warning that some 10% of farmers with complicated cases face an agonising wait to receive their payments after payment agencies admitted some claims will not be processed until next spring.
Meanwhile, dozens of farmers in England are still battling to resolve their 2015 BPS claims, despite the Rural Payment Agency’s (RPA) suggestion most cases have now been closed.
The Welsh payment agency, Rural Payments Wales , said 90% of farmers in Wales will receive their BPS payments in the first week of December – up from 40% last year.
On the first day of the payment window, £173m was paid to 13,176 Welsh farmers.
Improved exchange rate
The Welsh government said a switch to online-only claim applications had helped it achieve a high level of early payments.
NFU Cymru president Stephen James said an improved exchange rate, up 16.5% on the 2015 rate, was a timely boost for farmers and rural businesses.
In England, the RPA said it was “on track” to meet its target of paying 90% of claims in December.
NFU vice-president Guy Smith said: “We are in the waiting room with regards to payments going out.
“Some people can see into the future, because they will be able to see the money sitting in their bank accounts ready for processing.
“With the RPA, you can never second guess payments.
“But they have been confident for some time 90% by the end of the month is on track.
“We think heaps of payments will go out in the first few days.
“But the agency has identified 8,000-9,000 people who because they are either commons, cross-border, or have had their farms inspected, will unlikely be paid in December.
“I doubt very much that cross-border farmers will be paid this month.”
In Scotland, over 12,500 farmers and crofters have now received loan payments of 80% of the value of their 2016 BPS claims, worth a total of £256.5m.
A Scottish government spokesman said about 5,000 were either awaiting loan payments, or had not sent in their applications.
The deadline for applications closes on 14 December.
Finally, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (NI) said it was on track to pay 95% of the 23,000 eligible farmers their BPS payments in December.
‘Our members need clarity’ – NFU
“From the NFU’s perspective getting BPS payments out as early as possible in the seven-month payment window is absolutely critical for many farming businesses at the moment, writes the NFU’s BPS senior adviser, Richard Wordsworth.
Our members need to plan early if monies are not going to be received in early December.
Those in this situation need real certainty as to when payments are going to arrive.
They do not have confidence at this time, especially given the state of some 2015 claim payments, most notably claims with common land.
What has been lacking at an individual farm level is communication around 2015 payment issued, that information also critical for BPS 2016, the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) states they will have individual points of contact via case workers available early 2017.
This is welcomed by the NFU, but RPA needs to deliver the content farmers want to achieve confidence in terms of certainty around the timing of payments to help manage cashflow.
More specific communication now is needed or sadly we will find ourselves in the same situation as we did for 2015.
BPS Watch – keeping tabs on payments
Ongoing delays in 2015 support payments caused huge cashflow problems, stress and anxiety for thousands of farmers.
That is why Farmers Weekly has launched “BPS Watch”, designed to hold Defra and the Rural Payments Agency to account for their promises.
Our initiative – which will also cover Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – will focus on farmers and feature regular stories and payment updates, as we strive to keep government departments and agencies on track.