Some English farmers are on the brink of a financial armageddon with the prospect of losing as much as 63 per cent of their income.
Delays to the Government’s new Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), designed to replace the EU’s Basic Payments Scheme, means that some farmers are facing prolonged periods without state support. Without Government help, many farmers will be in financial peril.
The Government had previously assured farmers that they would be able to apply for SFI support from mid-August. However, over the bank holiday weekend, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Secretary of State announced that the application date had been pushed back to September 18.
Nearly 4,000 farmers may have to wait until next year to apply for state help, as the Government’s new computer system doesn’t allow farmers to apply if they farm ‘common land’.
Executive director of the Foundation for Common Land Julia Aglionby told the BBC that “people can’t live on the amount of money that they’re going to be making” and is urging the Government to remedy the application issue promptly.
She told BBC Radio 4: “There are 3,900 farmers who have rights on common land who are claiming under basic payments scheme and their income from basic payments scheme is declining.
“Most have lost between 35-50 per cent of their income this year, so they’re really keen to go into the new sustainable farming incentive and to countryside stewardship schemes.”
The farming advocate and university lecturer went on to explain the scale of the Government’s toing and froing: “Now there was a scheme up and running called sustainable farming incentive 2022 but that was pulled by the Government in June because they were announcing their new scheme.
“So we knew there was going to be a two-month gap but what we’re actually finding out now is that there is actually going to be a gap of potentially up to six months.
“Their whole computer system has been rebuilt and there isn’t the functionality there for commons to apply on the computer system.”
The expert conceded that the Government is considering bringing in an “offline system” but noted that that may not be for some time to come.
She explained: “The Government figures show… hill farms are going to have a 63 per cent decline in their farm business income for 22/23.
“Now people can’t live on the amount of money that they’re going to be making, so it’s absolutely critical that these new schemes come in promptly.
“Yet again we feel commoners have been deprioritised yet they’re looking after some of the most precious land in England.”
In a statement DEFRA said: “The sustainable farming incentive has something on offer for every type of farmer, including commoners. We’re making it as simple and flexible as possible for farmers to engage with and apply for.
“Commons associations understandably have more complex considerations related to their context, therefore the rural payments agency will work with them to provide bespoke support and process their applications as quickly as possible.”