The government was not delivering on its promises to assist growers, the NFU said

The NFU has accused the government of “failing to act” on promises it made to farmers and growers at an emergency drought summit earlier this summer.

It comes as a survey of its members showed 78% of farmers using forage expected a shortfall in feed reserves this winter, while 90% of those growing spring crops said their harvests were worse than expected.

The organisation hit out at Defra for the “little government action” taken, since a pledge by environment secretary Michael Gove after an industry summit on 1 August. Gove had promised his department was “already cutting through bureaucracy to ease the immediate pressures for farmers” to ensure food supplies remained consistent.

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Devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and administrations across Europe had put measures into place to help farm businesses cope with the long-term impact of the drought, said NFU president Minette Batters. But England was lagging behind, with government yet to provide any “meaningful assistance” to affected farmers and growers, she added.

The farming body called on Defra to apply to the EU Commission for flexibility on greening rules under the Common Agricultural Policy. The rules and agri-environment schemes see farmers become eligible for direct payments on factors like diversifying crops, maintaining permanent grassland and dedicating 5% of arable land to protecting water and habitats.

“Without these derogations, farmers face huge uncertainty over whether feed stocks will last the forthcoming winter and what increasing costs they will be facing if they don’t,” said Batters.

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The initial summit called on government to grant emergency exemptions and flexibility on water abstraction regulations, support for costs of additional forage and help transporting feed to areas running low following extreme weather conditions.

It also asked that the government expedite “well overdue” payments as more than 6,000 basic payment scheme claims worth £46m had gone unpaid, it said.

“The secretary of state said he would do ‘whatever it takes in order to make sure farmers can continue to run successful businesses’ after the summit last month,” added Batters.

“This is government’s opportunity to show meaningful support for the British farms that have been left so exposed to the extreme weather. We know the secretary of state values British food production, but - despite the recent turn in the weather - we still need to see action. A bit of rain does not wash the problems away.”