Northern Ireland farmers are receiving their full direct payments in one lump sum this year. Payments began to issue on Friday, 16 October 2020, with 94% of payments totalling £265·7million going out on the first day. By the end of the first week, payments had increased to 97% — £275·5 million. Payment letters are being issued by post but can also be viewed online at DAERA online services. My officials are continuing to verify the remaining claims and issue payments as a matter of urgency. In addition, they have developed a new online claim tracking service so that farmers can track the progress of their direct payments.
We can, and we will. That happened last year, and we hope to be in a position to do it by the end of this year. The reimbursement of the financial discipline deducted from the 2019 scheme year payments will be done as a separate payment. We do not know the exact date, but we managed to do it for December last year, and we hope to achieve that this year.
I commend the Minister and the Department for getting 94% of the payments out through the door on 16 October. That is a great result. It will be welcomed by the farming and rural community. When does the Minister envisage any changes being made to the basic payment regime following the transition period?
There will be modest changes next year such as the greening requirement no longer being applied. I am also looking at offering some sort of support for the growing of protein crops. Protein crops can divert the requirement to import protein from countries where environmental practice may not be quite as good as ours happens to be. Protein crops can also contribute to taking nitrogen out of the atmosphere and reduce nitrogen deposition going into our peatlands. However, I would like to do something more comprehensive in the following year. That will be based on ensuring that production is supported and that high environmental standards are applied, so that we can ensure that agriculture plays its part in reducing damage to the environment. There is work that can be done there. That will provide support to people who are taking significant environmental steps. It will be beneficial, particularly in the hill areas. I will be interested to hear the views of the Member and colleagues on that. I have no doubt that there will be significant change, but I think that the change will be measured towards what we actually want to achieve. What we want to achieve is continued growth in agriculture and continued reduction of the impact of agriculture on the environment.