National Farmers’ Union (NFU) President Minette Batters has called for immediate bridging payments for agri-environment agreement holders and a rollover option for scheme renewals.

Ms Batters’ stance has been backed by the entire NFU council.

NFU deputy president Guy Smith, who is the officeholder lead on agri-environment schemes, said: “It is clear that Defra is severely lagging behind on making countryside stewardship agreement offers and payments, with thousands still waiting for the advance payments and even more waiting for final payments.

We are calling on Defra to make bridging payments to the value of 75% of the annual payment to those who have not received any payments and fortunate enough to be in an agri-environment agreement.”

He added: “With many entry and higher level agreements now expiring, we are seeing many farmers looking to continue the positive work being done under new schemes and the disappointment that follows when applications to Countryside Stewardship are delayed or refused.

‘Great appetite from farmers’

“Defra needs to be capitalising on the great appetite from farmers to continue the work under environmental schemes.

“At the moment there are no options for the hundreds whose Countryside Stewardship applications were refused or proved too complex to apply for.

“There needs to be a functional scheme to enable farmers to renew efficiently and continue to deliver environmental enhancement.

We have to question how high on the priority list environmental schemes really are for Defra; these schemes are vital to farmers and the natural environment they work in – there is a lot at stake if Defra cannot deliver this effectively.”

Smith continued: “As recently as 2014, we had over 70% of farmland involved in environmental work through entry and higher level stewardship schemes. The vast majority of farmers wanted to continue doing it when their current arrangements ended.

“Huge investment has gone into achieving environmental gains on farmland. But farmers are telling us as their agreements end that they don’t see the current scheme as a realistic option.”