Farm Ireland

Thursday 18 January 2018

Farmers left in limbo after payments delay

Mapping debacle holds up €175m of DAS and SFP money to 50,000 applicants

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Close to €175m in direct payments to more than 50,000 farmers has been held up due to delays with the redigitisation of land parcel maps.

And it is feared that it could be January before many farmers receive their full Single Farm Payment (SFP) and Disadvantaged Area Scheme (DAS) monies.

Farm organisations have slammed the Department of Agriculture's handling of the payments crisis and accused them of exacerbating cashflow difficulties for thousands of farmers.

Figures released by the Department confirmed that €498.4m had been delivered under the SFP to 108,154 farmers by last Friday.

However, since over €635m was due to be paid out in the 50pc advance, the shortfall in payments to farmers tops €135m.

Meanwhile, industry sources estimate that at least €40m in DAS payments has been held back due to mapping problems.

Although the Department of Agriculture failed to answer specific questions on the number of maps which remain to be digitised or the rate at which they were being cleared, the farm organisations claim that more than 55,000 have yet to be processed, with a maximum of 4,000 being digitised each week.

This means it will take up to three months to work through the backlog. As a consequence, payments to farmers could be delayed to the end of January in some cases.

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The problems stem from the number of land parcel maps which had to be redigitised this year because of tighter EU guidelines on the allowable eligible area for payments.

Up to 97,000 maps were lodged by farmers in May. This is four times the usual number Department staff are required to process.

Clearing the increased number of maps has resulted in major delays in the delivery of payments.

Accurate figures on the number of farmers affected are not available, but payments to more than 50,000 applicants are believed to have been delayed. Indeed, IFA rural development committee chairman Tom Turley claimed that up to 20,000 farmers had received no payment whatsoever.

In most of the SFP problem cases, payments have been partially made. Only those farmers who have maps cleared for more than 50pc of their eligible land have received the full advance.

Farm organisations say they have been inundated with calls from angry members who have had payments withheld due to the maps crisis.

ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin accused the Department of being "in denial" about the extent of the payments problem.

He said a lack of communication meant many farmers only found out they had received either no payment or a partial payment after the initial payment run was completed.

"Unfortunately, many farmers have promised payments to merchants and, in some cases, have already written the cheque in the expectation of getting paid by the Department. To be let down at the last minute is not acceptable," Mr Gilmartin said.

The IFA's Tom Turley said the association's local offices had been flooded with calls from frustrated farmers who had not received their full SFP or DAS payments.

He called on Agriculture Minister, Brendan Smith, to prioritise the resolution of the mapping debacle and allocate the necessary resources in order that all farmers were paid without any further delay.

Meanwhile, ICMSA deputy president John Comer claimed that farmers who had a farm inspection under the SFP were now finding their payment delayed because Department inspectors had not completed the necessary paperwork.

Mr Comer said that ICMSA had been advised of cases where inspectors had told farmers it would be up to six weeks after the inspection before payment would be made.

He said it was an intolerable position for the farmers concerned, many of whom had loan commitments and other bills scheduled to be paid last week on the understanding that they would get their full SFP advance.

"It is quite clear that the Farmers' Charter deadlines have been torn up by the Department," Mr Comer said.

The Department has insisted that cleared payments will be made on an ongoing basis and will continue weekly.

Irish Independent