The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) has expressed its deep concern that confidence in agri-environment schemes amongst tenant farmers in England is waning due to poor administration by Natural England and the Rural Payments Agency (RPA).
TFA chief executive, George Dunn said, “There have been many different types of agri-environment scheme since they were first launched in England just over 30 years ago. They have always been well supported by the farming community, which has welcomed working in partnership with the Government to deliver outcomes for landscape and biodiversity. However, that partnership is now been placed under tremendous strain due to the shambolic way that Natural England and the RPA are administering schemes currently”.
With some 14,000 historic Environmental Stewardship payments remaining outstanding and around 8000 Countryside Stewardship payments for 2018 awaiting processing, many farmers are losing patience.
“People are trying to run businesses and are working to tight budgets and cash flows. It is particularly galling when DEFRA talks about the need for farmers to enhance their productivity when its own agencies are unable to fulfil contractual requirements for payments. It is especially important for tenant farmers to be paid on time given the absolute requirement upon them to make regular rent payments to their landlords,” said Mr Dunn.
TFA members have been receiving emails from the RPA apologising for the length of time it is taking to complete payments. The emails stress that the delays do not indicate there is anything wrong with their claims, but just that the Agency needs more time to complete its checks before payments can be made. The emails finish with the unhelpful advice that there is no indication as to when payments will be made.
“It is alarming that farmers who have kept their side of the bargain to deliver the management requirements of these schemes are now out of pocket. No wonder our members are frustrated with the Government as its inability to manage resources has led to this failure to deliver its side of the bargain,” said Mr Dunn.
“The Government will have to conduct a major exercise to restore confidence in agri-environment schemes, particularly as we move to a more public payments for public goods basis for future policy. This must start with getting money out the door in return for work done in accordance with contractual commitments,” said Mr Dunn.