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NFU demands answers as Defra faces fines for non-compliance


The NFU has called on Defra to challenge the EU Commission after it revealed that the department may face steep fines for alleged non-compliance for its administration of the agri-environment schemes for England.

The non-compliance centres on the process for verifying payments and the Commission wants to see these carried out in a single group after May 15 each year rather than throughout the year as is the case currently. This will lead to severe delays in payments to some farmers who have joined the Scheme many months before the May 15 deadline.

NFU President Peter Kendall said: “To find ourselves in this situation is astonishing given that these schemes have been in operation for several years and were approved by the EU Commission.

“The farming industry places its trust in Defra to administer agri-environment schemes in England and, more importantly, to ensure that they stay within the rules for delivery. This situation could seriously compromise the cash flow of many farmers and growers who rely on regular agri-environment payments when planning for their business.

“But there are some important questions that need answering. Firstly, how long has Defra known about this issue and how big a problem is it in reality. Defra has indicated to us that it thinks its current process for conducting cross-checks is robust. If this is the case, we would expect Defra to give full consideration to a legal challenge against the Commission’s interpretation.

“At the very least, Defra needs to find the best way forward out of this mess and ensure it has as little impact as possible on farmers. I will be looking for a firm commitment from Defra that any introduction of changes will be carried out with sufficient resource and maximum efficiency by its agencies.

“I am also acutely aware that the timing of this announcement could not come at a worse time given the start of the new Uplands strand of ELS on July 1 and the importance of ELS renewals for the success of the Campaign for the Farmed Environment. With the loss of the Hill Farm Allowance and the risk posed by the introduction of additional regulation if the CFE fails, the importance of these schemes to farmers and growers must not be under-estimated or diminished.”

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