The NFU has reiterated calls for Government to allow farmers to rollover Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) and Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) schemes which are due to expire.
The union already made the demand last week in a stinging letter to Defra Secretary Michael Gove, co-signed by the CLA and Tenant Farmers’ Association (TFA).
The letter expressed concerns about farmers dropping out of old schemes and refusing to join Countryside Stewardship (CS) because of its ‘shambolic’ administration.
At an NFU parliamentary reception this week, the union’s combinable crops board chairman Tom Bradshaw pushed Mr Gove again to commit to a rollover of the old schemes, saying they were ‘already working on farm’.
In response, the Secretary of State promised not to change things which ‘were working’.
But NFU deputy president Guy Smith remained unsatisfied with his comments.
He said: “It was good to hear the Secretary of State recognise it would be a backward step if existing HLS schemes coming to an end could not find a home in CS.
“However, it is clear to us that unless measures are brought in to extend HLS schemes, then this is what will happen because of the failures in CS rollout.
“As we have said many times over the last few years, the poor uptake of CS is not about farmers walking away from agri-environment schemes, but rather agri-environment schemes walking away from farmers.
“The Secretary of State needs to urgently address this by getting CS back on track. Where it cannot accommodate existing schemes, they need extending.”
In response to pressure from farming groups, Defra promised to make 75 per cent bridging payments to farmers with CS Mid-Tier or Higher-Tier agreements starting on January 1, 2017 who are still waiting for their money.
Eligible farmers should receive the cash by the end of June.
An extension to the deadline for Countryside Stewardship application packs to be received by Natural England has also been announced.
Farmers now have one extra month to complete their applications, which are due by August 31 2018.