By Isabel Davies
THE GOVERNMENT is under pressure to allow farmers to apply to the Entry Level Stewardship scheme before all of their land is put on the Rural Land Register.
The NFU has said that farmers are becoming increasingly frustrated at delays in registering land on the RLR. The union estimates there are “probably thousands rather than hundreds of maps waiting to be sorted”.
NFU deputy president Peter Kendall said he himself was waiting for maps and it was holding up his farm”s ELS application.
“For me it is going to be a really important part of my business” earning capacity. But I”m waiting for my maps to be returned for the second time.”
Mr Kendall said he had written to junior DEFRA minister Elliot Morley asking that DEFRA and the Rural Payments Agency devote more staff time to land registration.
He has also requested that DEFRA remove the requirement that all land must be registered before it can be included on an ELS application.
“We are asking DEFRA to be flexible and remove the barrier standing in the way of farmers applying in time for the August start date,” he said.
Junior DEFRA minister Elliot Morley said he understood the frustration the situation was causing.
But he hoped the great interest generated in the ELS did not wane and that all farmers who wished to start their agreements on Aug 1 would be able to do so.
A DEFRA spokesman added that the ELS application process has been designed around all land to be entered being registered on the RLR.
“RPA have recently put additional staff on to registering land and this should reduce the time taken to deal with cases,” he said.
But Anthony Gibson, south-west director of the NFU, pointed out that problems with maps is also making it difficult for farmers filling in their single farm payment claim forms.
He said his office had been deluged with calls from people who had found mistakes in the pre-populated field data on the SP5 or their digital maps.
Farmers with incorrect forms should try to correct the information, and add any missing parcels, using their previous set of correct maps or OS references, said Mr Gibson.
Farmer Phil Walters of Wishford Farm, Broadclyst, Devon, said he had confirmed the correct maps with the RLR in October.
But four fields totalling more than 30ha (74 acres) were missed off his SP5 form which arrived last week. “Then we received a new set of digital maps with a lot of land missing from them. It has just highlighted the incompetence within the system.”