THE Country Land and Business Association is claiming that it has been forced to come to the rescue of the Government department responsible for settling future farm payments under new EU rules.
The Rural Payments Agency of Defra, which is supposed to be introducing the new Single Farm Payment scheme, has already announced that it will be a year late in making its first payments - in February, 2006 - meaning many farmers will have to survive this year on their capital reserves or bank borrowings.
But the agency has been so overwhelmed by demand that its staff have not been answering telephone calls and, claims the CLA, has even failed to circulate lengthy, complicated forms which farmers must fill in order to register for the new payments.
Last weekend, an emergency delivery of these forms was sent to branch offices of the CLA, whose officials have volunteered to help out in order to overcome the "chaos" at the agency.
"It's utter chaos and with farmers' and landowners' financial futures at stake we're doing our best to help out," said Ms Dorothy Fairburn, Yorkshire director of the CLA.
"Sadly, it's not simply a case of form-filling. There are many as yet unanswered questions that won't be resolved by the deadline of May 16.
"Only a few weeks ago the CLA discovered that the need to register agricultural land in order to qualify for the much-needed payments suddenly now also included forestry and woodland, previously understood to be exempt. We are still waiting for clarification."
"Meanwhile the CLA is urging farmers and landowners who have not yet submitted applications or who are in urgent need of the forms to contact its hotline at the Easingwold, near York, office on 01347 823803.