The Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) has welcomed the announcement that advance payments will be made, where possible, from October 16 onwards – the first date possible under EU rules.

The organisation announced that this decision was expected due to the number of farmers submitting their Single Application Form (SAF) online increasing so significantly - creating the conditions for early payments.

The UFU's President, Barclay Bell, said: “While commodity prices have improved from last year and exchange rates have improved, farmers will certainly welcome the decision to pay up to half of their claim in October.”

Under current EU rules this advance is limited to 50% of the direct payment, though in previous years it had been raised to 70% to help offset cash flow difficulties, the UFU noted.

Bell elaborated on this point, saying: “This is something we will be pushing the European Commission for, as cash flow is still an issue on many farms.”

The president added that, while the exchange rate to calculate the sterling value of payments will not be confirmed until the end of September, the UFU is hopeful that the further strengthening of the euro against the sterling since last year will provide a "welcome boost" as winter draws in and feed and other bills begin to rise.

BPS payments date set

Bell was speaking following the confirmation this week by Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) that its intention was to issue advance payments for the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and Greening Payment from October 16.

DAERA added that advance payments will only be made on fully verified claims.

A DAERA spokesperson said: “The delivery of advance payments in 2017 is a direct consequence of the increase in the number of farmers submitting their Single Applications online.

"The department is committed to maximising the number of payments made to farmers in October and again in December," the spokesperson stressed.