Defra Secretary Michael Gove has said he will look into the possibility of making ’early’ Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments to drought hit farmers in a bid to alleviate the cashflow crisis circling the industry.
In a bid to bring about some forward-thinking on the issue, the NFU held an emergency summit with farming organisations, Defra, the Environment Agency, Natural England, the Rural Payments Agency and farming charities RABI and the Farming Community Network.
Mr Gove heard industry concerns about the availability of forage for livestock and dairy farmers; available water resources for irrigated crops and abstraction restrictions; growing conditions for cereals and rain-fed crops and a risk of standing crop fires.
Speaking to Farmers Guardian after the summit in London, NFU deputy president Guy Smith said he had impressed upon Mr Gove the pressures facing the country’s producers, adding the cashflow crisis would deepen as businesses used up winter forage stocks.
"Late BPS payments really hurt and we emphasised the need for all payments including those for environmental schemes to be paid on time," said Mr Smith.
"The Secretary of State is a good listener and has promised to look at that and a move by some other EU countries to make payments early in light of the extraordinary weather. However we know those conversations with the Treasury will not be easy."
If early payments cannot be made, Mr Smith said it was essential they were made as close to December 1 as possible.
Mr Gove also heard that giving farmers more flexibility around access to groundwater for irrigation would ease the drought situation. Britain is seeing its driest summer in 42 years.
On the national media attention surrounding the issue, Mr Smith said it was heartening to see public apathy for the industry.
"It is important that we remind consumers that we cannot take food production for granted," said Mr Smith.
"It is also a time to remind consumers of the importance of staying loyal to British farmers. These pressures will no go away any time soon."
The union’s president Minette Batters, who chaired today’s (August 1) meeting, said: “Farmers have been fantastic advocates for change and are constantly adapting their businesses to deal with the challenges they face every day such as the weather.
“We need Government policies that invest in our sector and to support to vital work of farmers as food producers.”
The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) said it was time for ‘all parts’ of the farm to fork supply chain to play their part in what it called an ‘unprecedented set of difficulties’.
TFA chief executive George Dunn said domestic retailers and food service operations must continue to source UK products where possible, and ‘must not seek to profit unduly by raising consumer prices given the strong margins they are able to secure in normal circumstances’.
“Landlords should not see to capitalise on increased demand for grassland and fodder crops by hiking farm rents across the board,” Mr Dunn added.
He said the Government must also be ‘flexible within the regulatory environment’ and ensure payments arrived on time.
It came as the Scottish TFA appealed to Scottish government for help in tackling what it called ‘the looming fodder crisis’, while RABI braced itself for a further surge in calls for help following exceptionally high calls during July 16 to 24.
The Association of Drainage Authorities said Britain needed to have the infrastructure, regulations and plans in place to deal with both prolonged dry periods and intense rainfall events, something it said ‘appeared to be becoming an ever-increasing feature’ of Britain’s weather.