NFU President Meurig Raymond branded the delivery of the Basic Payment Scheme ‘unacceptable' and 'a fiasco’ as he opened the #NFU16 Conference this morning.
Mr Raymond told delegates and attendees including the Defra Secretary of State, Elizabeth Truss: “Low prices have badly affected cash flow. But for very many that has been made worse by the completely unacceptable delivery of Basic Payments in England and Wales. In England the RPA struggled to deliver their promise of a majority paid by the end of December - and only then barely more than half of eligible farmers got paid - and only 30% of the money was delivered.
“By the end of January almost a quarter of recipients had still received nothing. In my book that’s nowhere near the 'vast majority' that you, Secretary of State and Mark Grimshaw, had promised us. In this market thousands of farm businesses and those supplying farmers rely on the BPS to help pay their bills… their rents or their mortgages.
“In England today around 16,000 farms have still not had their payment. Farmers with common grazing rights have not yet received a single penny. Defra and the RPA have consistently refused to listen to our pleas for part payments- leaving many without any clue as to when they would receive their payment.
“You cannot run a business like that.
“Of course we’ve heard all the excuses for poor performance. I’m not going to rehearse them here. For me it’s simple, Secretary of State, This can’t go on. In 2016 the system has got to work. And it’s got to work well.”
The NFU President criticised supermarket price wars which left ‘the carrots and sprouts for the Christmas dinner costing less than a can of Coke’.
“And in the middle of the BPS fiasco we have the retailers. The supermarkets may say one thing publicly… but we know that they will push the pain down onto their suppliers and they’ll do it because they think they can,” he added.
He said the bureaucracy of Countryside Stewardship had also left farmers “feeling let down”.
And he addressed other adverse impacts on British farming, from the unprecedented wet weather to forthcoming introduction of the National Living Wage.
But there were positives too.
Although further strengthening was required, the “devastating report on Tesco’s conduct” showed the Groceries Code Adjudicator in effective action. Progress had also been made with TB, and, although short-term prospects were discouraging, Mr Raymond added that the future was more positive.
He said: “Our own surveys of our members show short-term confidence has taken a knock … but longer term confidence has held up much better.”
To steer a course through a difficult present, Mr Raymond noted that, in the NFU, agriculture has “a lobbying organisation that most other sectors can only dream of”.