On the eve of Back British Farming Day, the NFU is calling on ministers to ‘do the right thing’ as problems continue with the rollout of the farm payment schemes.
The Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) should have been up and running to deliver payments by December, however, delays in the rollout mean that most farmers are unable to access it.
This coincides with major reductions in payments under the old Basic Payment Scheme, leaving farmers facing a bleak end to 2023.
Minette Batters, president of the NFU, said: “We now know that farmers will not be paid this year, despite assurances that they would be.
“With farm input costs through the roof and interest rates soaring, this leaves farmers in a perilous place. The old scheme goes, the new one’s not ready, and farm businesses are caught in the middle. That’s not fair and we are calling on ministers to recognise that and make it right.”
Mrs Batters added: “It’s Back British Farming Day next week; a celebration of farming and growing, of great food, of our countryside and of people who make a huge contribution to the UK economy. It would be great if government could have some good news on this for farmers then.”
These delays do not just affect farmers. Environmental targets funded through the scheme – ‘public money for public goods’ – cannot begin until the payments begin. The NFU is therefore calling on ministers to halt further reductions in farm payments, due to fall by £720 million this year, until the delivery of SFI is secured.
Mrs Batters said: “All we’re asking for is government to bridge the gap it has created by taking away one set of payments, but not delivering access to their replacements on time.”
Ministers had committed to SFI 2023 opening in August, with payments to follow in December. However, it will now only be partially open and not until mid-September. A handful of farmers were able to register an expression of interest on the 30th of August and await an invitation to apply meaning the scheme was technically open, although the reality has been very different.
Consequently, the NFU states that payments farmers were relying on will not come this year, and only a few will receive them in the early part of 2024. Under the old scheme, 83,000 claimants received their payments. The false start to the SFI comes as another replacement scheme for the old EU-led subsidy payments, the Countryside Stewardship, has run into problems.
NFU vice president David Exwood said: “Paying farmers this year was one of the government’s own key tests for delivery of the scheme.
“With the scale of the rollout of SFI 23 still unclear and with many farmers still not sure what they need to do to apply, the current situation needs to be resolved quickly.
“Government needs to pause BPS reductions until it can fairly deliver their replacements, otherwise it is farming businesses and farming families which are left bearing the cost.”