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    Farmers 'Incensed' at Rural Payments Agency Fiasco
20/07/05

Farmers in the North West say they are 'incensed' at the latest Government announcement that not only leaves them facing disastrous cash flow problems, but also reduces the national flagship environmental programme to little more than a sham.

According to the Government, the new Single Farm Payment - supposed to be paid to farmers from this year for the environmental management work they do - will not now probably be paid until March next year, largely as a result of ongoing computer and resource problems at the Rural Payments Agency (RPA).

This is a month later than previously announced, and says the NFU, there is little confidence in these latest assurances that the RPA will in fact meet the March deadline.

In light of all these problems, Cumbria County Chairman, Alistair Mackintosh is urging the approximate 1,000 farmers who have not returned Single Farm Payment SP2* and SP2a* forms to the RPA, to do so immediately.

"If these farmers don't return these forms with their extra information to the RPA then you can guarantee that the RPA will use this as a stalling tactic so that it can issue the Single Farm Payment to everyone later than planned. And make no mistake - it will effect every farmer," said Mr Mackintosh.

One of the main reasons Cumbrian farmers will have used SP2 and SP2a forms will have been to drop the year of Foot and Mouth Disease from their forms due to the fact that they would obviously have had less or no livestock if they had been culled out.

In a further twist, it seems the Government has finally admitted defeat on its flagship environmental scheme - the Environmental Stewardship Scheme - launched earlier this year.

Once again facing severe computer problems - especially in respect of generating the computerised maps farmers need to apply for the scheme - the Government has now announced that those who have not already indicated that they intend to enter the scheme will now be unlikely to be able to join until 2006.

Alistair Mackintosh, said the announcement would cause very real difficulties for farmers.

"Like all businesses, farms are heavily reliant on cash flow and farmers structure their businesses around when they expect to have money coming in", added Alistair.

"To expect farmers to bridge a three-month gap is totally unacceptable - especially at a time when they are already facing real uncertainty thanks to the shambles that is this year's CAP reform.

"The potential impact is immense and extends beyond the farming community to a wide range of rural businesses dependant on agricultural customers.

"As a result, we are now pressing the Government even harder to commit to making an interim payment at the end of this year. If they refuse, we will be looking at real financial hardship for thousands of farming families across the region.

"The British public needs these farmers to carry on doing what they have always done to maintain the glorious landscape that underpins our tourist industry. But the new agri-environment scheme is an essential part of helping them achieve a viable farm business.

"We are astounded that given the fanfare launch that this scheme received, we are now in a situation where we have farmers eager to join and yet are most unlikely to be able to do so because of the total failure of government systems.

"This scheme is largely funded through so-called 'modulation' - money deducted from all farm payments and redirected to specific areas including environmental schemes.

"We must assume therefore that the government will react favourably to our expectation that there will be a corresponding reduction in modulation this year as there is effectively no environmental scheme being run."

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