The Scottish Government announced yesterday that around 3,500 of the reported 19,160 farmers and crofters claiming farm support could expect to see the first instalment of their direct farm payments beginning to arrive in their bank accounts on Hogmanay.
But while the news indicated that rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead had delivered on his promise to start payments before the end of the year, the maths suggest he has fallen short of his target of making them to a quarter of all producers.
And it now looks likely that only 18 per cent of those claiming will receive their first instalment – likely to be made up of 75 per cent of basic payments and 90 per cent of greening – around the end of the year.
“Our aim was to pay a first instalment of at least 70 per cent and even higher if possible – whilst at the same time doing all we can to avoid Scottish farmers facing incorrect payments, or the loss of funding through EU disallowance that others faced in the past,” said Lochhead.
Admitting that the first batch of payments had been made up of the “most straightforward” claims to process, he said there would be further payments from January to March adding that officials would continue to work “flat out” to maximise the number and level of payments.
Commenting on the continuing uncertainty for the 82 per cent of producers who were not included in the first run, NFU Scotland president Allan Bowie said that the union would be keeping up the pressure for more payments to be made as soon as possible.
“In truth, no-one knows when they will be paid,” he said. “This is a disappointing outcome which has ramifications for other payment runs such as LFASS; beef and ewe hogg schemes and agri-environment payments.”
However Lochhead thanked farmers for their patience and urged any who were experiencing difficulties to contact their local area office or the recently launched RPID customer helpline.
Lochhead also gave an update on the EU requirement that producers were given an indication of the level of payments they could expect this year and until 2019 before the end of 2015 – and while some producers had received this, others were still to be notified.
“Scottish farmers and crofters will shortly begin to receive letters with this information, and those whose entitlement values have been calculated will also be able to view the information via their rural payments and services account.”
However, it will not be until the number crunching is finalised at the end of March that farmers will be given “firm and final” figures for their entitlements and expected level of payment each year up to 2019.
“But despite the incredible complexity in the new CAP and extremely tight timescales for implementation, Europe requires that we give farmers illustrative information at this point in time. That is now happening,” said Lochhead.
However, for the unlucky majority who will not receive payments during the first run, the letters will be of assistance in making alternative arrangements such as securing bank and other loans in order to avoid catastrophic cash flow problems.