Coronavirus: NFU calls for delay in BPS payment reductions

BPS reductions scheduled for December 2021 should be postponed until December 2022, the NFU has said
BPS reductions scheduled for December 2021 should be postponed until December 2022, the NFU has said

The NFU has urged the government to delay BPS payment reductions until December 2022 due to the impact of the coronavirus.

The union's vice president Tom Bradshaw has written to farming minister Victoria Prentis asking government to delay the post-Brexit agricultural transition period.

Currently, BPS payments are to be reduced in a 'progressive way' from 2021, Defra Secretary George Eustice told delegates at the NFU Conference in February.

There will be a transition period in England between 2021 and 2027 as the EU payments are gradually phased out.

It will start with a reduction of 5%, with the largest landowners taking the biggest hit initially, Mr Eustice explained.

But with disrupted supply chains caused by Covid-19 having an impact on farmers’ ability to manage cashflow, Mr Bradshaw has called for a delay.

BPS reductions scheduled for December 2021 should be postponed until December 2022 in order to give farmers more time to prepare for the scheme’s phase out, he said.

The NFU also makes the case for the full payment of outstanding 2019 Countryside Stewardship and Environmental Stewardship agreements to be released by the end of April with Treasury funding - if ordinary processing will not allow payments to be issued.

It goes further in asking the Rural Payment Agency (RPA) to give a BPS 2020 “payment guarantee” so that all claimants receive either their full payment or a bridging loan to a value of 90% of the claim by early December 2020.

Mr Bradshaw's letter also addresses difficulties farmers have had accessing guidance for an accurate BPS application due to social distancing restrictions.

The NFU has requested confirmation that the RPA will provide a penalty-free BPS amendment period to 15 June for those that have not been able to complete their applications by that time, while retaining the 15 May deadline.

Mr Bradshaw said: “The government has taken unprecedented action to protect businesses from financial trauma, but for many farmers these measures either increase the level of debt or are targeted to enterprises they do not have on farm.

"For thousands of farmers there is an immediate step that Defra could take to assist with cashflow – releasing outstanding 2019 agri-environment and BPS payments and committing to paying future payments promptly."

He added: “Coupled with the immediate disruptive impact of Covd-19 on farmers capability to prepare for change, we believe that Defra should delay the agricultural transition period to December 2022 at the earliest.

“We do not want to see a repeat of previous failings when it comes to introducing new support schemes at this time because a desire to stick to what we see is an increasingly unrealistic original timeline,” he said.