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Last Updated: Friday, 24 March 2006, 11:15 GMT
West: Farmers' frustration
Paul Barltrop
Paul Barltrop
The Politics Show West

Brown Cow
Farmers let down by Rural Payment Agency

Imagine running a business which is owed thousands of pounds. Then think what it would be like having no idea when you will get your money - and being unable to do anything about it.

So it is in the world of farming, where a new system of government payments has gone badly wrong.

And in parts of the West farmers know only too well what they are missing out on: their counterparts from over the Welsh border have already been paid.

"It makes me a bit depressed really, it makes people think they are not wanted any more," says Willy Guest.

"Other people are making money and you are not. It is a struggle."

Willy Guest
Willy Guest has not received Single Farm Payment

He runs a small sheep farm in the Forest of Dean. But in recent weeks he has had to take truckloads off to market - and they have not been replaced.

It has been a tough financial choice to keep the family farm afloat.

"I have a wife and three children, all our income comes from the farm," he says. "Without our expected farm payments it is very difficult."

In 2005 he sent in his paperwork for Single Farm Payments; these are replacing the subsidies he used to get under Europe's Common Agriculture Policy.

He has received nothing.

Devolution means there is a separate system in Wales - something that Charles Hopkinson knows all about.

Charles Hopkinson
Charles Hopkinson has been paid by Wales

He farms on both sides of the beautiful River Wye, whose meandering curves mark the border with England.

So he has had two different bureaucratic jungles to struggle through - with very different results.

"On the opposite side I have received 80% of the money due to me from the Welsh Assembly.

"But here on the English side I have had nothing so far," he says standing outside his house on the East bank of the river.

"Trying to run a business and not knowing when the money is coming is extremely difficult."

Farmers' leaders have been warning for months that things were going wrong.

On a visit to the South West this week the leader of the National Farmers' Union, Peter Kendall, warned that the system is in meltdown.

"I have a horrible feeling that they are going to have to start all over again with the delivery of the Single Farm Payments, because the situation has been allowed to get into such a bad mess," he says.

"How much money will have been wasted then?"

There has already been one high-profile casualty: the official in charge of the struggling Rural Payments' Agency was sacked by the government.

Ministers have held crisis talks over why fewer than one in 10 English farmers have been paid.

For more than 100,000 others the wait goes on.

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