Thousands of farmers across the UK continue to suffer frustrating and, in some cases, crippling, waits for their new Basic Payments as administrations to struggle with the new scheme.
Payments continue to trickle out, slowly, in England and Wales but uncertainty remains for many and, in England in particular, farmers are demanding more transparency from Defra and its agencies over timings.
In Scotland, things just go from bad to worse as the Government missed its modest December target. Again farm leaders are demanding clarity about the next steps.
Only in Northern Ireland do things appear to be going anywhere like according to plan.
In England, another small batch of payments is understood to have gone out in early January after the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) paid 44,400 farmers a total of £425 million by the end of December.
This amounted to 51 per cent of claimants, ensuring RPA had narrowly met its target of paying the majority of claimants by the end of January - but only about 30 per cent of the estimated BPS 2016 fund of £1.45 billion.
The figures illustrate how the agency achieved its December target by focusing initially on smaller claims.
NFU vice president Guy Smith pointed out payments delivered so far were worth, on average £10,000, while those still to be delivered - £1bn to 43,500 claimants - were worth on average in excess of £20,000.
Defra and the RPA have also promised to deliver the ’vast majority’ of payments by the end of January. But questioned on this at the Oxford Farming Conference, Defra Secretary Liz Truss was unable to shed any light on what this meant or when the remainder of farmers would be paid.
The agency has written to about 15,000 farmers who are not expected to be paid by the end of January.
It has revealed, in response to a Freedom of Information request, nearly 8,927 farmers have been placed in the late payment tranche due to inspections, along with 4,722 commons farmers, 379 cross-border claims and 342 with ’multiple issues’.
It also revealed the assessment about these payments was made back in August.
NFU vice-president Guy Smith said the NFU was adamant the ’vast majority’ should mean 80 per cent by both claimants and fund value.
He said the ‘fog of confusion’ over when BPS and environmental scheme payments would be coming was adding to the anxiety for farmers.
"We call on Defra, the RPA and Natural England to recognise that it is impossible to run a business when you don’t know when you are likely to be paid," he said.
"Defra and its agencies must be more transparent and clear as to when they think this money will go out rather than hiding behind a veil of confusion."
He added: “We will continue to demand partial payments but we are becoming frustrated that the RPA will not consider them.”
The Welsh Government announced this week 70 per cent of farm businesses had now received their 80 per cent BPS part payment, after 67 per cent had been paid by the end of December.
Food and Farming Deputy Minister, Rebecca Evans said this represented an ’excellent achievement’, given the complexity of the reform and compared very favourably with the position in England and Scotland.
She said: “Rural Payments Wales remains on track to pay the vast majority of farmers in the coming weeks though more complex cases will take longer to pay,”
“Farmers who have not been paid by the end of January will be written to in order to update them on progress, and advise them when they are likely to receive payment
The final 20 per cent payment instalments will be made in April.
A Farmers Union of Wales spokesman said farmers had been warned payments would be slow coming but this was ‘little consolation for the 30 percent still waiting who have bills to pay and mouths to feed, particularly given the severe drop in farmgate prices and farm incomes’.
He said: We continue to put pressure on Welsh Government to process payments as fast as is possible, while emphasising it is not only farmers but also all the other businesses which rely directly and indirectly on farming which are being hit by the delays."
He urged Welsh farmers to check their detailed payment statements, available online only, for alleged over-declarations, after half the applications processed so far were deemed to have over-declared.
NFU Scotland president Allan Bowie said Scottish farmers had suffered a ‘miserable and costly start to 2016’ after the Government revealed it had missed its modest December BPS target.
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said 3,500 farmers and crofters had received the first payment instalments – worth 75 per cent of their Basic Payments and 90 per cent of greening payments.
This represented just 18 per cent of Scotland’s 21,000 applicants after the Government said in November a quarter of Scottish farmers would have received their first instalment by the end of December.
Mr Lochhead said he was pleased to ‘surpass’ the aim of paying a first instalment of at least 70 per cent.
Thanking farmers for their patience, he said: “Between now and March, further payments will be made, and I would like to reassure farmers and crofters we are continuing to work flat out to maximise the number and the level of payments.
“Once we have finished processing all Scottish payments in March, we will be able to provide farmers with firm and final figures for their entitlements and expected level of payment for each year up to 2019.”
But Mr Bowie said: “The ongoing failure in Scottish Government’s systems to deliver new common agricultural policy scheme support means it has already missed its own December target by some distance.”
In response to Mr Lochhead’s promise to keep industry fully informed on progress, Mr Bowie called for a new statement on payment timetables to be issued.
“The fact is Scottish Government paid out part-support to a meagre 18 per cent of claimants in December – not 25 per cent as intended – meaning 82 per cent are still completely in the dark as to when their first instalment will arrive,” he said.
He said the recent issuing of letters to claimants providing an illustration of entitlement values, intended to give some comfort to producers, had actually added to the confusion, with information on greening and reduction coefficients attached to Region Two and Region Three land ‘poorly explained’.
By the end of December, 95 per cent of eligible claimants in Northern Ireland received full payments worth £192.4m.
Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill said the performance equalled last year’s Single Farm Payments record.
More than 1,700 inspected claims had been paid in December, the largest number ever processed by this time of year.
She said her department would continue to assist those who had not yet been paid.
“I am particularly pleased that the department has equalled its record 2014 performance during a period of great transition and despite the challenges which CAP reform has presented for farmers,”she said.
Where a successful application for the Young Farmers’ Payment has been confirmed, this has also been paid.
The payment issued incorporates deductions made under the financial discipline mechanism to provide funds for the 2016 EU Agricultural Crisis Reserve.