Confidence in agri-environment schemes amongst farmers is ‘waning’ due to ‘poor administration’ by Natural England and the Rural Payments Agency.

The partnership between farmers and the government working together to deliver outcomes for the environment is now under ‘tremendous strain’, according to the Tenant Farmers’ Association (TFA).

Some 14,000 historic Environmental Stewardship payments remain outstanding and around 8000 Countryside Stewardship payments for 2018 await processing.

The group blames the ‘shambolic way’ that Natural England and the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) are administering schemes.

It comes as a report finds that the RPA is failing on multiple levels, causing significant difficulties throughout the UK for farmers.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee’s report highlights concern that the agency will be unable to effectively deliver the Countryside Stewardship and Environmental Stewardship scheme, and that it is not capable of rising to its post-Brexit challenges.

TFA Chief Executive, George Dunn said: “People are trying to run businesses and are working to tight budgets and cash flows. It is particularly galling when Defra talks about the need for farmers to enhance their productivity when its own agencies are unable to fulfil contractual requirements for payments.

“It is especially important for tenant farmers to be paid on time given the absolute requirement upon them to make regular rent payments to their landlords,” said Mr Dunn.

‘Frustrated with the government’

Farmers have been receiving emails from the RPA apologising for the length of time it is taking to complete payments.

The emails stress that the delays do not indicate there is anything wrong with their claims, but just that the agency needs more time to complete its checks before payments can be made.

The emails finish with the advice that there is no indication as to when payments will be made.

Mr Dunn added: “It is alarming that farmers who have kept their side of the bargain to deliver the management requirements of these schemes are now out of pocket.

“No wonder our members are frustrated with the government as its inability to manage resources has led to this failure to deliver its side of the bargain,” he said.

The TFA is calling on the government to conduct a major exercise to ‘restore confidence’ in agri-environment schemes, particularly as the industry moves to a more public payments for public goods basis for future policy.

Source: Farming UK