NFU calls for stop in BPS reductions as farmers in 'perilous place'

Farmers are in a 'perilous place' amid BPS reductions and delivery issues with the government's post-Brexit scheme, Minette Batters has said
Farmers are in a 'perilous place' amid BPS reductions and delivery issues with the government's post-Brexit scheme, Minette Batters has said

The NFU has urged the government to halt reductions in BPS payments – due to fall by another £720m this year alone – until delivery problems with the new post-Brexit scheme are resolved.

The government's new Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) should have been up and running to deliver payments by December.

However, delays in the roll-out of the farm support scheme mean most farmers are unable to access it.

The NFU warned that this delay, alongside 'through the roof' input costs and soaring interest rates, meant farmers were left in a 'perilous place'.

Ministers should 'do the right thing' and halt reductions in BPS payments, which will fall by another £720m during this year alone.

NFU President Minette Batters said: “We now know that farmers will not be paid this year, despite assurances that they would be.

"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.

“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.”

Farmers are not the only ones affected by SFI delays. Government has legislated for environmental targets through the scheme – “public money for public goods” – and farmers have embraced that concept.

However, with the scheme delayed, a lot of on-farm environmental work it is designed to pay for cannot begin.

Ministers had committed that SFI 2023 would be open in August, with payments coming in December.

But it will now only be partially open and not until mid-September. It takes some months between a farmer being accepted on to the scheme and payment being made.

A handful of farmers were able to register 'an expression of interest' on 30 August and await 'an invitation to apply' meaning the scheme was 'technically' open, but the NFU said reality was 'very different'.

Consequently, payments that farmers were relying on will not come this year and will come to only a handful in the early part of 2024. By comparison, the BPS had 83,000 claimants.

The false start for SFI 2023 comes as another key scheme also designed to replace EU payments, called Countryside Stewardship, has also run in to 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 roll out 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.”

He added: “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.”