DEFRA has paid out less than £530,000 from a £10m fund to help farmers recover from winter floods that left swathes of farmland underwater.
The department said it had paid £529,362 from the flood recovery fund to 93 farmers. These included 68 applicants under the first phase of the scheme, which enabled farmers to apply for up to £5,000, and 25 applicants who applied for further grants of up to £35,000.
Since it was launched earlier this year to help restore land to agricultural production, the scheme has been plagued by criticism. The application process involves completing an eight-page form. Farmers must also obtain three quotes for each job that needs doing.
More on the flood recovery scheme
Several farmers have contacted Farmers Weekly to complain they are being asked to jump through too many hoops to get the £5,000 grant. They include Berkshire farmer Colin Rayner, who lost 10% of his crops when the Thames burst its banks at Berkyn Manor Farm, Horton.
Mr Rayner said he had filled in the application form correctly but was then sent follow-up emails requesting additional information. This was slowing down the whole procedure and creating additional work at a time when he was trying to get his business back on track.
“It is impossible to get this grant aid,” Mr Rayner told Farmers Weekly. “We have applied for the grant funding of £5,000/farm. The amount of information required is unbelievable and the confirmation is ridiculous. We will give up claiming this money.”
A DEFRA spokeswoman said it was taking the department two weeks to turn around an application – quicker if the information was correct. Civil servants had worked closely with the NFU and other stakeholders to develop the scheme and have actively sought feedback since it was launched.
“We’ve listened to what they’ve been telling us and have responded by making changes so it’s easier and quicker for farmers to apply,” said the spokeswoman. “Since making the changes farmers have been positive about the fund and [the] application process.”
A dedicated team was working with farmers on the telephone to ensure application forms were completed correctly with all the information needed and could be processed as quickly as possible, the spokeswoman said.
“We have slimmed down the application process as much as we can while still enabling us to provide the support farmers need and taking care to spend taxpayers’ money in a responsible manner attaining value for money.
“We would strongly encourage any farmers who haven’t yet applied to get in touch. Any farmers with concerns or queries about their own applications or the application process as a whole should also get in touch and we can discuss this with them.”