The Tenant Farmers’ Association (TFA) has said that the performance of the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) “must improve”, and is calling for bridging payments to be rolled out to cover delays.

The TFA did welcome the completion of more than 98% of the 2018 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments in advance of the June deadline, which it says indicates a “significant improvement” of the agency’s ability to process payments.

However, the TFA insists that the over-reliance of bridging payments, in particular for agri-environment schemes, “raises questions about the underlying performance of the agency”.

According to the TFA, farmers who have yet to receive their 2018 BPS payments and their advanced payments for the 2018 Countryside Stewardship (CS) will receive a bridging payment from April 12.

“While we welcome these bridging payments, the TFA is concerned that the RPA is becoming more dependent on using the bridging payment mechanism as a regular method to enable payments rather than getting to the root cause of the issues that are delaying them,” said Lynette Steel, policy advisor for the TFA.

“The use of bridging payments gives the RPA a ‘get out of jail free card’ in the short term. Greater questions need to be addressed by the agency as to the cause of the delayed payments in the first instance,” she added.

Steel argued that farmers in the Environmental Stewardship programme are still facing lengthy delays, and that the payments process for this scheme has “fundamental issues”.

Despite regular meetings with stakeholders, the agency’s refusal to communicate the root cause of these problems continues to be a point of frustration.

“Minister’s are simply taking too long to action the required improvement plan needed to rectify the delayed payments,” she claimed.

Concluding, Steel said: “The TFA is calling for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to take immediate action to restore farmer’s confidence in these schemes; leaving it until the launch of the new Environmental Land Management schemes will be too late.”