FARMERS fighting for more than £1m from the Government for work during the foot-and-mouth crisis vowed today never to work for them again unless they were paid up front.

More than a year after the region was declared disease free, the Northumberland and Durham Machinery Ring says the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has yet to finish paying them.

The farmers' co-operative says Defra's "delaying tactics" mean they and their members are facing a cash-flow crisis and are determined to take legal action if they're not paid in full.

In a co-operative newsletter, chairman Tony Brown said the ring, which has 300 members, would continue to "pursue the debt vigorously".

"It is extremely frustrating to me and very demoralising to all the staff to see that at this point all the hard work could potentially lead the machinery ring into a cash flow crisis," he said.

"The National Emergency is over and those that played such a significant part in bringing it to an end are not only being quietly forgotten they are being punished."

The Northumberland and Durham Machinery Ring, based in Crook, County Durham, was set up in 1998 and gives those with machinery and labour the chance to rent out their equipment to farmers who need labour.

During the foot-and-mouth crisis, farmers worked all hours using their machinery to move and transport the piles of carcasses left from the gruesome culls.

They say payments were initially made by Defra at regular intervals, but in January they stopped without warning with Defra asking for additional details.

Since then, the machinery ring has been forced to take on extra staff to cope with the demands for information, such as the chassis numbers of machinery used.

One farmer, who did not want to be named, said: "£1m is a massive amount of money and a lot of the members are having serious problems because of it.

"The only way we would ever work for the Government again is if they paid us in advance."

The machinery ring, which is non-profit making, is believed to be one of dozens of organisations owed millions of pounds across the country. Cumbria County Council says it is owed £4m.

A spokesman for Defra said: "We have given a substantial amount of money to these people and there's no reason why they should not have paid their subcontractors."

He declined to comment further.