Farm Ireland

Sunday 17 December 2017

Eligibility guide attempts to clarify BPS confusion

Simon Coveney
Simon Coveney

Martin Ryan

The first copies of the new guide to the Basic Payment System started dropping into farmers' letterboxes this week as the Department of Agriculture attempts to provide more clarity on eligibility three weeks ahead of the final deadline.

The delivery of all 130,000 editions of the 29-page Guide to Land Eligibility should be completed by tomorrow.

The publication contains several illustrations that attempt to define what constitutes eligible agricultural land, and the point at which land with heather, ferns and rushes becomes ineligible.

A new coefficient procedure aims to widen in the margin of tolerance before penalties are applied.

A zero rate of penalty will be applied where less than 10pc of a land parcel is determined as ineligible on inspection.

However, penalties of 20pc kick in where 10-30pc of the land is deemed ineligible. This will increase to 40pc where 30-50pc of the land is ineligible, with a further rise in the penalty to 60pc where 50-70pc of the land is declared ineligible. A 100pc fine applies where more than 70pc of the claimed area is ineligible.

The land in question must be available to the applicant for a period from either the start of the year until a date after May 31, or from a date before May 31 until the end of the year. The exception to this is land in ANC, AEOS, REPS and GLAS schemes, where the applicant must farm the land for the full year.

The land must also be maintained "in a state suitable for grazing or cultivation without preparatory action going beyond usual agricultural methods and machineries", and have independent access for animals and machinery.

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However, the ICSA claimed the booklet simply proved the "huge ambiguity and subjectivity" surrounding the issue in recent years.

"The controversy over LPIS over-claims and threats of legal action forced the Minister [Simon Coveney] to take action," claimed suckler chairman Dermot Kelleher. "The new booklet requires 29 pages to define what is eligible, yet before this the only available guide on the Department website consisted of a three page document. The question must be asked whether the Minister now admits that neither farmer nor agricultural advisor could have been expected to interpret a subjective and unclear set of guidelines," he said. Mr Kelleher added that it was not good enough to say that tall rushes are not eligible.

"How tall is tall? Surely farmers are entitled to know whether this means 1.2m or 1.5m?" he asked.

Indo Farming