Farm subsidy bridging payments ‘must include all schemes’, say farmers’ leaders

NFU deputy president and Essex Farmer Guy Smith Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

NFU deputy president and Essex Farmer Guy Smith Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Farmers’ leaders have criticised government for limiting farming subsidy bridging payments to a select group.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) welcomed an announcement from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) that it would make bridging payments for 75% of the estimated value of 2017 Countryside Stewardship Mid Tier agreement claims by the end of June, but said it was “not acceptable” to ignore those in other Higher Level Stewardship (HLS), Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) or Countryside Stewardship (CS) Higher Tier agri-environment agreements.

The NFU Council called for bridging payments for all schemes to the value of 75% of the annual payment, and joined forces with the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) and Tenant Farmers’ Association (TFA) to write to environment secretary Michael Gove on Tuesday, June 19.

“On the face of it, this announcement shows that DEFRA is listening to the concerns of those agreement holders affected and it’s this sentiment we welcome,” said NFU deputy president Guy Smith, who farms at Clacton-on-Sea. “But to only solve the problem for a select few agreement holders, ignoring those in other HLS, ELS and CS Higher-Tier, is not acceptable. Agreement holders of any sort that are left waiting for payment should be eligible for a bridging payment.

“The principle is rather simple: if DEFRA accepts the case that it’s not acceptable to expect agreement holders to wait any longer for money owed then that clearly applies to all those waiting, not just a minority.

“We haven’t yet had any clarification on how they are going to deliver these bridging payments but what we hope to see is extra resource going in to Natural England to support this work. If we don’t see extra resource then I can’t foresee any decent progress being made in delivering the outstanding 25% of payment to agreement holders.

“It is clear that we need a long-term fix in the administration of the scheme; what we don’t want is one step forwards with this bridging payments announcement, but three steps back in the long-run.”

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Farmers were still awaiting news from DEFRA on establishing a rollover option for scheme renewals, he added.