FARMERS' leaders are demanding assurances following the disclosure that Government Ministers have sought an extension to the end of June deadline for making farm payments.
The Country Land & Business Association (CLA) has demanded that the Rural Affairs Secretary, Margaret Beckett, keep the promise made by farming minister Lord Bach and the much maligned Rural Payments Agency (RPA) to make partial payments "as soon as operationally possible."
Delays leave farmers uncertain
The European Union had originally set a deadline of the end of June for the Single Payments to be received by farmers; however, following computer problems and administrative chaos at the RPA, Defra has asked the EU to extend its deadline to October.
CLA President, David Fursdon said: "We are extremely disappointed that Defra seem to have spent more time trying to get an extension to their deadline at the end of June than they have in getting deadlines changed that would lessen the severe effects on farmers that their appalling handling of the new Single Payment Scheme have had."
In another twist to the ongoing debacle, delays may be already entering the system for future payments. Due to what the CLA refers to as the incompetence at the RPA and Defra, most farmers have not yet received the information they need to make their 2006 applications before the deadline of May 15th.
"Defra has so far shown no willingness to recognise the problem they have put farmers in by waiving the optional penalties for late applications," added David Fursdon.
The double whammy comes as the Government recognises the ordeal that the farming community is currently enduring. An additional £100,000 is being made available to key rural support organisations that help farmers deal with stress, Minister for Sustainable Farming and Food, Lord Bach, has announced.
Five organisations with close links with the farming community are drawing up proposals for providing additional advice and emotional support for those most in need.
Lord Bach said: "From my meetings with the farming industry and individual farmers, I recognise that many are facing cash-flow problems in these difficult times. In order to help people who find these difficulties particularly stressful, we have substantially increased the amount of funding available to organisations dealing with hardship issues.
"However at the end of the day, these problems will only be solved with payments being made, which is why the Rural Payments Agency is working flat out to develop a partial payments system. This will deliver the greatest amount of money into the industry in the shortest possible time."
The CLA also says it is also deeply concerned to learn that Mark Addison, the acting head of the RPA, is to be replaced. Since he was appointed on March 16th - following the dismissal by Margaret Becket of his predecessor - there has been no indication at all that he would be in post for only a very short time.
David Fursdon has now written to Lord Bach, asking that he reconsider the decision. "To change the CEO again after only 2 months would be destabilising and therefore highly dangerous."