Latest figures from the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) show almost 99 per cent of eligible farmers under the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) have received payment by February 29, a 1.4 per cent improvement on last year.
BPS payments worth £1.76 billion were made to farmers and more than 77 per cent of eligible farmers and land managers have received their full Environmental Stewardship (ES) claim, totalling £133 million.
More than 13,000 Countryside Stewardship and ES farmers have received full payments compared to last year.
RPA chief executive, Paul Caldwell, said: “We fully understand how important it is to farmers and land managers that they receive prompt payments in full.
“That is why as part of our continuous work to improve these schemes, we are making Countryside Stewardship and Environmental Stewardship payments to farmers in full this year, meaning more farmers receive their total payment earlier in the window.
"We are working tirelessly to ensure remaining payments are made as quickly as possible.”.
The NFU has welcomed the improvements and said it is ’step in the right direction’ for the agency, which has been under considerable pressure to improve performance.
However, a seven month payment window could lead to issues for farmers to financially plan.
An NFU spokesperson said: “We are still not where we need to be. 63 per cent of Countryside Stewardship agreement holders are still awaiting 2019 monies with no details of when payment will arrive in the next week or in three months.
“Environmental Stewardship is in a better place, with the majority of agreement holders having been paid their full claim value now. We hope to see this level of payment maintained or improved in the weeks ahead to translate into all agreement holders being paid ahead of the June deadline."
Farmers still awaiting full payments should expect to receive it by the end of the payment window in June 2020.
The application window for BPS 2020 will open in March and the RPA have encouraged all claimants to submit their applications as soon as they are able to.
The level of funding available for BPS Direct Payments for 2020 will be the same as for 2019, with the rates for payments to be confirmed later this year.
Applications for this year’s Countryside Stewardship scheme are now open and farmers with ES or CS agreement expiring this year are able to sign up for a new agreement to start in 2021.
Those who sign up to CS who wish to enter the new Environmental Land Management Scheme will be able to leave their agreements at agreed exit points, without penalty.
The claim window for customers with existing CS and ES revenue agreements is set to open in March and farmers are encouraged to submit their claim for 2020 payment as soon as they are able to ahead of the 15 May deadline.