Department of Agriculture penalties for cross compliance issues hit a record high last year, the Farming Independent can reveal.
Farmers who breached cross compliance rules in 2012 were penalised an average of €996 each, which was more than double the €488 average penalty applied in 2005.
And the 2012 could increase even further, because Department of Agriculture figures do not include the final tally for penlties under nitrates inspections.
The table below shows a county-by-county analysis of how much farmers were fined each year by the Department of Agriculture from their single payment scheme (SPS) payments.
There has been a sharp increase in the number of farmers penalised every year and a greater proportion of the national single farm payment is being held back by the Department every year.
In 2005, cross compliance penalties issued to 1,271 farmers amounted to €620,552 or 0.052pc of the total national single farm payment due that year.
Fast forward to 2011 and 3,816 farmers were fined a massive €2,464,041 or 0.23pc of the total single farm payment.
That's a trebling of the number of farmers penalised, a four-fold increase in total penalties imposed and more than a four-fold increase in the proportion of monies being deducted.
Last year, the number of farmers penalised fell to 2,472 but the amount of money deducted fell by a lesser extent, amounting to €2,464,041 or 0.203pc of the national single farm payment (SFP). The lower number of penalties in 2012 may have been a conscious decision by the Department not to add to the pressure of the appalling weather last year. Nonetheless, the trend is clear: more inspections and higher penalties.
Cross compliance penalties are incurred if farmers do not obey the 18 statutory management requirements (SMRs) set down in European legislation or fail to keep their land in Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC).
Eight SMRs were set out in 2005, with a further seven added in 2006 and another three added in 2007.
This increase in the number of SMRs may account for some of the early increase in cross compliance penalties but it does not account for the increase in penalties between 2008 and later years or the higher number of more severe penalties applied by the Department.In 2005, 18 of the 1,271 penalties applied were an SFP deduction of 15pc or more.
By 2011, more than 20pc of all farmers penalised were deducted 15pc or more of their annual payment. That meant 792 farmers out of 3,816 penalised lost at least 15pc of their SFP.
Reacting to the figures, ICMSA president John Comer insisted that an increasing proportion of penalties related to minor problems that should not warrant a fine.
"ICMSA has never accepted – and never will accept – the argument that, for instance, broken guttering on a shed or a missing tag warrants a cash penalty being levied against a farmer's payment," he said.
"If a farmer is penalised to the sum of €500 for broken gutters, is he or she more likely to be able to get the money together to fix that guttering or not?
"He or she is actually 'down' €500 from the monies they have available to fix these problems," he maintained.
The ICMSA called on Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney to implement a 'Yellow Card' system where farmers would be given a period of notice to fix specific identified problems.