The NFU says delays in issuing desperately needed advance payments of the 2000 Suckler Cow Premium are inexcusable.

Les Armstrong, Chairman of the NFU’s Livestock Committee, said today that swift action was now needed to remedy the situation.

He said: “Beef producers were told on 12 October that they would be receiving these desperately needed advances on their suckler cow payments shortly. That was 49 days ago.

“It is hugely important that farmers aren’t left in the lurch when it comes to vital assistance with cashflows at this time.”

The advance payments, which includes agrimoney compensation, amount to more than £75 per eligible cow.

The NFU wrote to MAFF at the end of September when it first became aware of potential problems. It has also raised the issue on numerous occasions at all levels, including with the Agriculture Minister himself.

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The excuse from the MAFF, according to the NFU, is computer problems.

Mr Armstrong, a beef and sheep producer from Cumbria, said: “We have been told the delays are because changes still have to be made to the computer system following alterations to the SCP rules resulting from the Agenda 2000 reforms.

“I find this an unacceptable excuse. Ministry officials have known of these changes for over 12 months and the necessary changes should have been made well in advance of the start date for payments.

“The Scottish Executive Rural Affairs Department (SERAD) started making payments at the end of October in Scotland, so if they can get their systems right why can’t MAFF?

“The Industry cannot afford to carry the costs of the administrative failings of MAFF.”

The NFU says interest for the industry on the delayed payments alone amounts to around £25,000 a day.

Les Armstrong said: “It galls farmers to think that were the tables turned they would be under huge pressure to make up for their error – and with interest.

“It is vital, therefore, that the Ministry does everything in its power to get its house in order and to set things straight with farmers as soon as possible.”

The latest information from MAFF officials, following further pressure from the NFU, is that payments will start during December.