Farmers' rights charter in limbo as talks stall

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Negotiations on the Charter of Farmers' Rights have hit a log-jam over the most contentious issues, despite over 12 months of meetings between top Department officials and the farm organisations.

The last Charter of Rights has been obsolete since 2011. Since then there have been significant changes in how the rules governing the myriad of farm schemes are interpreted by Government inspectors. In the case of tolerances for thing such as missing cattle tags, much of the pressure for a tightening of the rules came from the EU.

However, it is notice of inspections and land eligibility that remain the two main sticking points, with farm organisations digging in on demands for protocols on when a farmer should or should not get 48 hours notice of an inspection.

Currently, the Department reserves the right to decide how much, or little, notice a farmer gets in advance of an inspection on issues such as nitrates, animal identification and land eligibility. On other cross-compliance issues such as animal welfare, food hygiene and feed, farmers are not entitled to any prior notice.

What land will be deemed eligible for inclusion in Single Farm Payment (SFP) applications remains contentious, especially in marginal areas with significant amounts of scrub and rock.

In addition, farm leaders failed to reach agreement with Department officials on payment schedules, with fears that new inspections for up to 10pc of the 8,000 tillage farmers with ecological focus areas will create a massive back-log in payments being processed.

"The least that farmers deserve is a commitment on a process to deal with problem cases within a given time-frame," said ICSA president, Patrick Kent. The issue of notice for farmers either before or after an inspection has taken place needs to be tackled better by the Department, he added.

"Farmers are entitled to argue their case on the day of an inspection if non-compliances are being noted.

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"But we deal with up to 20 cases a year of farmers that don't get any notification that they have failed an inspection that they weren't present at until up to one month later," he added.

While the tightening up of tolerances on issues such as missing cattle tags was insisted by the EU some years ago, a new period of grace is mooted for animals found to be missing a single tag during an inspection.

It is expected that the various parties involved in the process will take up their issues directly with the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney over the coming weeks before a final document is published.

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