About 22,500 farmers and land managers are thought to be awaiting full payments for Environmental Stewardship and Countryside Stewardship schemes.
The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has admitted it is ‘determined’ to restore confidence in agri-environment schemes following its announcement to pay farmers an owed £115 million next month.
About 22,500 farmers and land managers are thought to be awaiting full payments for their environmental work through Environmental Stewardship (ES) and Countryside Stewardship (CS) schemes, with some payments dating back to 2015.
Many farmers have had to resort to taking out loans and overdrafts to make up the government’s shortfall.
The BBC suggested the outstanding figure was nearer £150m.
RPA chief executive Paul Caldwell said: “We are determined to build on the improvements that we have already put in place, keep up a regular cycle of timely payments, and restore confidence in these schemes which are so important for our environment.”
Defra Secretary Michael Gove told NFU Conference delegates in February that CS was ‘still in a mess’ and that the government must do better.
NFU deputy president Guy Smith said the payments would provide ‘much-needed relief’ but that the union would continue to monitor the situation to ensure overdue payments were paid in full.
He said: “We have been calling for the government to sort this out.
“The news comes as we had worked with one of our legal panel firms, Thrings, through our Legal Assistance Scheme to assist individual farmer members in pursuing their debt claims against the RPA.
“Hopefully this service will no longer be necessary.”
George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers’ Association, agreed that more work needed to be done to re-establish confidence in agri-environment schemes, particularly as the industry moves towards the proposed Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS).
He said: “The poor performance of the RPA has dented enthusiasm to participate in new schemes. Making the outstanding payments now will go a long way towards the restoration of some trust amongst the farming community.”
CLA president Tim Breitmeyer added: “This move is only the start of the process of rebuilding trust and credibility.
“Having delivered their contractual responsibilities, farmers will expect government to honour theirs and given the expected move to a wider and more encompassing system of payment for environmental work post-Brexit, they will want meaningful reassurances of being paid in a timely and efficient manner.”
The RPA has written to all unpaid customers this week to provide an update on payments, suggesting it would write again after individual claims had been processed to confirm any adjustments to final payments.
ELMS, which will replace CS and ES once the UK leaves the European Union, will undergo tests and trials with farmers and industry groups before being rolled out.
It is expected to be fully operational in late 2024.