Farming opinion: Welcome progress made on farm support payments – but some challenges still remain

NFU Suffolk county adviser Rachel Carrington.

NFU Suffolk county adviser Rachel Carrington. - Credit: Archant

As the debate continues on the future of farm support payments after Brexit, the NFU is also dealing with more immediate concerns centred on the 2016 Basic Payment Scheme, writes NFU Suffolk county adviser Rachel Carrington.

The good news is that, for many farm businesses in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, farm support payments have arrived earlier than anticipated.

At the NFU we are well aware how much pressure lack of cash flow can put on farmers, so we welcome the fact that the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has met its promise of 90% of businesses paid by the end of December.

On Tuesday, it announced that more than 80,000 farmers in England, 93%, have now received their Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) money.

However, that still leaves a minority of farm businesses in East Anglia without any payment, as well as some without the correct payment for 2016 and even for 2015. (An NFU member survey in January found that 11% still had outstanding payment or claims issues from the 2015 application year).

Against that background, this is not the time for the NFU to take its foot off the pedal. Our colleagues at our Stoneleigh HQ are in regular contact with the RPA. We are also assisting members who continue to face cash flow issues. Farmers who have not been paid will have had a letter from the RPA giving the main reason for the delay.

We would have preferred an RPA letter saying that a bridging payment was being deposited into bank accounts. In our view these letters do not address our members’ concerns – planning around the lack of monies.

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There is a particular concern because we are at that time of year when the tax office expects its payment. If farmers do have a tax bill due, and are struggling to pay, our advice is to talk to HMRC immediately. It has a process to help, called Time to Pay.

Moving forward, we hope that any outstanding BPS 2016 issues will be resolved by the end of February, so farmers will know where they stand when preparing for BPS 2017.

To help farmers we are arranging another series of roadshows with the RPA.

These include Barnham Broom, Norfolk on Monday, March 6, starting at 2pm,and two meetings in Suffolk on March 7, one at the Cedars Hotel, Stowmarket at 10am and one at the NFU Regional Office, Newmarket, at 2pm.

Although there are no significant changes planned for the 2017 application process we have found that members always find this a useful opportunity to hear from the NFU and RPA on the current process, potential pitfalls and to have the opportunity to raise any specific questions or comments.

While thinking about the payment, please be on the guard for those targeting the industry - cybercrime fraudsters. Our website includes advice from the RPA on what to look out for.