'Complete chaos' looms on Basic Payment Scheme
The lack of clarity on what qualifies as eligible land for the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) is threatening "complete chaos" for the 130,000 farmer applicants.
With less than seven weeks to the close of applications for the €1.2bn in payments it is understood that the issue of eligible land is still under discussion between the Department of Agriculture and the EU Commission.
The available regulations defining eligible land under the 2015 BPS were described by farmer leaders as "absolutely crazy" the farm organisations claimed. They said a number of "contradictions and conflicts" had created "utter confusion" for farmers.
The IFA is raising this issue with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture today. In a statement the association said it was "unacceptable" that farmers were currently applying for BPS and GLAS "in the dark" because of the continuing uncertainty over what was considered eligible land.
The IFA called for Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, to bring clear up the uncertainty surrounding the eligible land issue, given that 2015 was a critical year for farmers' payments under the BPS as it effectively set entitlements up to 2020.
ICMSA president, John Comer has called on the Department to immediately give clear and realistic guidelines to farmers on eligible land.
"We cannot have the 2013 situation repeated when farmers received penalties going back a number of years on the basis, we would contend, of very questionable changes in the interpretation of regulations," Mr Comer said.
"The same problems are flaring up again. The level of detail now required in applications is bordering on the ridiculous," he said.
Mr Comer said contradictory advice was being given to farmers regarding land management for the BPS and for GLAS.
"In designated areas we have the Department telling farmers to remove scrub etc. to make the land eligible, while other agencies are prohibiting the farmer from doing exactly what was ordered. This cannot continue and Minister Coveney has to intervene and clearly state the position before this becomes even crazier," said Mr Comer.
ICSA president, Patrick Kent said that the whole land eligibility question had become a huge source of anger and frustration among farmers.
He pointed out that cereal farmers were being forced to devote at least 5pc of their land to ecological focus areas, while cattle and sheep farmers were being penalised severely for having more than 3pc ecological focus areas.
Farmers are now being encouraged to seek professional advice on completion of applications for the 2015 BPS. Employing a farm planner would act as an "insurance measure" to protect applicants' entitlements, the farm organisations have said unofficially.
"Paying €500-€750 to a planner could be money very well spent. If there is a problem subsequently, the cut in payment could be crippling for the farmer. It's a safety measure to let the planner's insurance take the hit," one source advised.
Meanwhile, the Department has clarified that if an applicant was satisfied that the eligible area was greater than the pre-printed reference area he or she could declare a claimed area greater than the reference area.
"The applicant should submit a map to justify the additional area claimed and if possible, a note explaining the increase in the comments section of the online facility," the Department said.
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