Farmers and agricultural consultants will walk away from GLAS unless the Department of Agriculture moves immediately to sort out serious difficulties with the new agri-environmental scheme.
The warning was issued this week by leading farm consultant Eddie McQuinn. The Tralee-based advisor said planners were facing a raft of problems with the new programme, and these difficulties were not being addressed by the Department.
“Up to 30,000 farmers are supposed to join GLAS this year, but the way the scheme is going today, I doubt if the Department will have 5,000 applications by the April 30 deadline,” Mr McQuinn said. “There is so much frustration out there, I think farmers and planners will start to walk away from GLAS and say it’s not worth the hassle,” he maintained.
“And that would be a pity since farmers would be the big losers if that happens, because GLAS has the potential to be an excellent scheme,” he added.
Among the concerns cited by planners were:
• Difficulties logging onto the system;
• Problems splitting parcels;
• Problems marking physical feature such as watercourses on plans;
• Inability to upload and verify plans;
• Inability to print completed plans.
However, advisor complaints regarding the management of the GLAS application process have been totally rejected by the Department of Agriculture.
The Department argue that “with few exceptions” the vast majority of planners who are experiencing problems logging on to the system are those who “didn’t attend the required training, or haven’t provided proof of their educational qualifications” or haven’t sent in their registration form.
On the question of splitting parcels, the Department insisted it had already dealt with this issue and had explained that the ability to split parcels was built into the system and had shown how the farmer, working with his adviser, could come up with the best fit to suit his own situation.
The Department accepted there were problems marking in physical features such as watercourses.
“We are aware of some issues on this front, most of which we are addressing through advice via the online query system. However, in some cases, there are issues to do with mapping of these watercourses and we are working to solve all such problems progressively,” the Department said.
On the inability to upload and verify plans, the Department pointed out that the GLAS online system was opened at the earliest possible date to facilitate the preparation of applications, pending approval of the entire Rural Development Programme. “At that stage, the submit function will be activated and whatever plans are ready and stored on the server can be submitted, while work continues on others,” the Department said.
However, despite the Department assurances, planners insisted that the GLAS application process was in crisis.
Indeed, the frustrations voiced by Mr McQuinn were echoed by the well-known farm advisor Richard Rea. Mr Rea said the current GLAS application system was not “fit for purpose” and had provoked growing frustration among farmers and planners with the scheme.
The Tipperary-based consultant also warned that the lack of clear and definitive information from the Department on GLAS was “rather dangerous” since the future rejection of plans could potentially be challenged in the courts.
Mr Rea also questioned why the GLAS scheme had been announced by the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, while so many contentious issues remained to be resolved.
“The minister was either poorly advised by his officials or else political considerations were a factor in the timing of the scheme’s opening,” Mr Rea maintained.
Mr McQuinn called for an emergency task force comprising all industry stakeholders to be established to sort out the ongoing difficulties with GLAS.
“Urgent, urgent action is needed. We need a two-way dialogue, to bring the problems farmers and planners are experiencing with GLAS up from the ground, and the solutions back down from the Department,” he said.
But the Department rejected suggestions that an emergency task force was needed.
“We continue to address issues as they arise and there is, of course, a learning curve for users as well,” the Department stated. “In the circumstances, we don’t see the need for a special taskforce but we remain in close communication with representatives of the advisers at all times.”