Thursday, November 14, 2019

Stewardship payments to be made at long last

July 2, 2019 by  
Filed under News & Business

Full payments will finally be made to thousands of farmers who have been left waiting years to receive their agri-environment money.

Farmers and land managers with unpaid annual revenue relating to environmental and countryside stewardship – some dating back to 2015 – will receive a payment for the full amount they are owed by the end of July, says the government.

The Rural Payments Agency says it wrote to all unpaid farmers last month to provide an update on the situation. Once individual claims have been processed, it will write again to those farmers to confirm any adjustments to be made to the final payment.

Paid in full

Rural Payments Agency chief executive Paul Caldwell said: “Outstanding revenue claims for agri-environment schemes will be paid in full.

“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.”

Taking land out of production for species-rich meadows, building ponds to provide water for wildlife and planting trees for carbon sequestration are a few examples of the work farmers are waiting to be paid for.

Rebuilding trust

NFU deputy president Guy Smith said news that the money is finally on its way would provide much-needed relief for farmers. He added: “We will continue to monitor the situation to make sure these overdue payments are made in full and at last hit farm bank accounts.”

Country Land and Business president Tim Breitmeyer said the payments were only the start of the process of rebuilding trust and credibility. Farmers who delivered their contractual responsibilities expected the government to honour its obligations, he added.

Mr Breitmeyer said: “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.

“This can only be achieved by ensuring the mistakes of the past are not repeated.”

New scheme

Stewardship is due to be replaced by an Environment Land Management (ELM) scheme after the UK leaves the European Union. Defra says the new scheme will be tested with farmers and industry groups before becoming fully operational in late 2024.

Tenant Farmers Association chief executive George Dunn said more work needed to be done to re-establish confidence in agri-environment schemes as ELMs beckoned in the context of the government’s 25-year environment plan.

Mr Dunn 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.”

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