FARMERS, CROFTERS and land managers now have until midnight on May 15 to submit their Single Application Form, following the opening of the official 'window' for applications this week.

Welcoming the announcement, NFU Scotland has said that the next few weeks of farmers re-engaging with Scotland’s CAP IT system will offer an "important barometer" on what progress has been made sorting out its well-documented shortcomings.

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing noted that three-quarters of farmers and crofters submitted their SAF online last year, and encouraged everyone who wishes to do so to submit their applications online as soon as possible and not to wait until the last moment.

"The online application is designed to simplify the process by automatically checking applications for errors – reducing the risk of financial penalties – and enabling farmers to access and update their business and land information at the touch of a button," said Mr Ewing.

“However, we will still accept paper applications from those who choose to apply that way, and we are sending those customers an application form," he added.

“Avoiding a repeat of last year's payment problems remains my number one priority and I can confirm that 2016 payments will commence shortly. In the meantime, I would thank our farmers and crofters for their continued patience as we continue to work to ensure that all remaining payments are made as soon as possible.”

NFUS president Andrew McCornick said: “In the past year, we have continued to liaise with Scottish Government to ensure that the significant improvements in the online applications system seen last year carry on into this year’s application process.

“Farmers and crofters now have exactly two months to complete their forms, and NFUS is urging applicants to fill out their SAF as soon as possible, whether that is online, on paper or through their agent. I fully appreciate that farmers and crofters will be stretched right now by the demands of calving, lambing and spring work, but I would urge anyone aiming to complete their own SAF by the deadline to make time sooner rather than later so that any problems can be ironed out quickly," he said.

“With SAF online now open, the next few weeks will be an important barometer on what progress has been made with Scotland’s CAP IT system," he added. "As well as completing applications, members are keen to hear from Scottish Government when balance payments for 2016 BPS and Greening will be made; some balance payments from the LFASS 2015 scheme remain outstanding and news on the delivery of the 2016 LFASS scheme is keenly awaited by our hill farmers and crofters.

“Given the range of loans and balance payments, members and their accountants are also waiting on the clear statement that has been promised to all claimants, outlining exactly what money has already been paid and under what scheme," stressed Mr McCornick.

“While we genuinely appreciate the efforts and commitment from many people within the Scottish Government to put right what has been an appalling IT fiasco, it is farm businesses that continue to be stretched. We will continue to keep the utmost pressure on Scottish Government until the IT system delivers and Scottish farmers and crofters no longer have to battle in order to get the system to work.”