NFU president Minette Batters, backed by the NFU Council, has called for immediate bridging payments for agri-environment agreement holders and a rollover option for scheme renewals.

Guy Smith, deputy president and lead on agri-environment schemes, said: “It is clear that Defra is severely lagging behind on making Countryside Stewardship (CS) agreement offers and payments, with thousands still waiting for the advance payments and even more waiting for final payments.

“We are calling on Defra to make bridging payments to the value of 75 per cent of the annual payment to those who have not received any payments and fortunate enough to be in an agri-environment agreement.

“With many ELS and HLS agreements now expiring we are seeing many farmers looking to continue the positive work being done under new schemes – and the disappointment that follows when applications to CS are delayed or refused.”

He said Defra should be capitalising on the great appetite from farmers to continue the work under environmental schemes.

“At the moment there are no options for the hundreds whose CS applications were refused or proved too complex to apply for,” he said. “There needs to be a functional scheme to enable farmers to renew efficiently and continue to deliver environmental enhancement.

“We have to question how high on the priority list environmental schemes really are for Defra; these schemes are vital to farmers and the natural environment they work in – there is a lot at stake if Defra cannot deliver this effectively.”

On Wednesday, the NFU criticised an announcement from Defra that certain bridging payments would be made available to some Countryside Stewardship agreement holders.

It expressed concern that only agreement holders since 2017 will be eligible for a bridging payment and said all in agri-environment schemes – in HLS, ELS and CS Higher-Tier or Mid-Tier – who are owed payment should be eligible.

Guy Smith, deputy president, said it was not acceptable. “Agreement holders of any sort that are left waiting for payment should be eligible for a bridging payment.

“The principle is rather simple: if Defra accept the case that it’s not acceptable to expect agreement holders to wait any longer for money owed then that clearly applies to all those waiting, not just a minority.”