RPA payments: Payments for environmental efforts to finally come through

Thousands of farmers in stewardship agreements are set to finally be paid for environmental work carried out as far back as in 2015.

Payments will be made in full in July to eligible farmers in agri-environment schemes who are still waiting to be paid, the Government confirmed today (June 19).

Farmers and land managers in Environmental Stewardship (ES) and Countryside Stewardship (CS) agreements do important work to protect the countryside. However, a significant number of agreement holders have not yet received full payment for work they have undertaken.

Rural Payments Agency (RPA) chief executive Paul Caldwell said: “Today we are announcing that outstanding revenue claims for agri-environment schemes will be paid in full.

“We are determined to build on the improvements that we have already put in place, keep up a regular cycle of timely payments, and restore confidence in these schemes, which are so important for our environment.”

The RPA will write to all unpaid farmers this week to provide an update on payments. Once individual claims have been processed, the RPA will write again to customers to confirm any adjustments to be made to the final payment.

Taking land out of production for species-rich meadows, building ponds to provide a water source for wildlife, or planting trees for carbon sequestration are a few of the options that farmers and land managers will be paid for.

The future Environment Land Management (ELM) scheme, which will replace CS and ES once we leave the EU, will undergo tests and trials with farmers and industry groups before being rolled out. It is expected to be fully operational in late 2024.

Tim Breitmeyer CLA president said it was “only the start of the process of rebuilding trust and credibility”.

“Having delivered their contractual responsibilities, farmers will expect the Government to honour theirs and given the expected move to a wider and more encompassing system of payment for environmental work post-Brexit, they will want meaningful reassurances of being paid in a timely and efficient manner,” Breitmeyer said.

“This can only be achieved by ensuring the mistakes of the past are not repeated.”

The Tenant Farmers’ Association (TFA) has branded the administration of the stewardship schemes as “shambolic”.

The cash flows of many tenanted farm businesses have been placed under tremendous pressure due to these delays.

‘The days I experienced span four years’

One TFA member, Keith Siddorn, said his experience had caused him to lose faith in Government schemes.

He said: “The delays I have experienced span four years, and this has ultimately led to me losing interest in farming altogether.

“We make plans and invest up front in schemes to improve the environment and welfare of food production.

We keep our side of the agreements, yet bureaucracy and poor communication within the agencies have led to immense stress as delays to what they owe us roll on.

Siddorn said finally receiving the payments would be a “great weight off his shoulders”.

“Years of chasing what is truly owed to me has taken its toll and receiving what is due to me would be a great stress relief.”

TFA chief executive George Dunn said: “We have been pressing the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) on this for some time.

“Scheme participants had met their side of the bargain and they expected the Government to do the same, despite internal difficulties. Farmers cannot rely on the same excuse if they were found to have been in breach of their commitments,” said Dunn.

“It is good that in less than a month the RPA has responded positively to this challenge. We must now work constructively to ensure that the remaining years of Environmental and Countryside Stewardship run smoothly and that in the development of the ELMS concept, lessons are learnt from the mistakes that have been made.”