'I have just received a telephone call to tell me I am having a single farm payment scheme inspection tomorrow. What should I do?"
I received this message from a farmer last week, and these were the points we discussed:
Type of inspection
It is important to find out what type of inspection will be carried out before the inspector arrives, as the amount of notice given will depend on the type of inspection. Also, the type of inspection will determine what type of things the inspector will be looking at.
Notice of inspection in advance
The Farmers' Charter, which is available on the Department of Agriculture website (www.agriculture.gov.ie), sets out the notification procedure. It states that 14 days may be given for land eligibility and cross compliance inspections involving SMRs other than those related to animal identification and registration, food, feed and animal welfare.
For checks involving animal identification and registration, the maximum advance notice is 48 hours, provided the Department is satisfied that the purpose of the inspection is not jeopardised. For SMR's dealing with feed, food and animal welfare, no advance notice may be given.
Procedure for unannounced inspections
The Department is not obliged to give advance notice of an inspection relating to feed, food and animal welfare. Where no advance notice is given, the Farmers' Charter provides that prior to starting an inspection, the Department will provide the farmer with a card setting out the details regarding the notice for inspection and providing the farmer with an opportunity to postpone elements of the inspection for 48 hours or 14 days as appropriate.
Where no-one is present when an inspector arrives unannounced, he or she will return again. If there is no-one present at the second visit, the inspector will ring the applicant and inform them that they have been selected for inspection and that the inspection will be carried out on the food hygiene, feed and welfare checks there and then. The inspector will offer the option to the applicant to complete the remaining elements of inspection within 48 hours or immediately, if that is the wish of the applicant. Where no contact can be made, the inspector will proceed with the unannounced elements and leave a note.
What to expect at the conclusion of an inspection
The inspecting officer will complete an Inspection Report Form following each inspection. The applicant will be given an opportunity to sign the Single Application Inspection Report Summary and comment if they wish. If a non-compliance is found, the applicant will be informed of what has been found and how the findings impact on the specific requirements of the scheme. Any comments made by the applicant will be noted in the inspectors report and taken into account in the decision-making process.
Will the Applicant be penalised for every non-compliance found?
The Farmers' Charter provides that a tolerance can be applied. Infringements of the cross-compliance requirements which are, on their own, minor in nature and do not result from the negligence of the applicant and are capable of occurring in practical farming situations may not give rise to a sanction.
In such circumstances, if the applicant takes remedial action within three months, it automatically results in a clear inspection. For example, the following scenarios on their own will not give rise to a sanction:
What about non-compliance in excess of tolerance levels?
Where cross-compliance provisions are not complied with and the non-compliance is the result of an act or omission directly attributable to the applicant, the total direct payments shall be reduced or cancelled.
The applicant will be notified by letter from the District Superintendant and given 21 days in order to apply for a review. The Department will carry out a review of the decision and the applicant will be informed of the outcome of review in writing. If the applicant is still turned down after review, they will be notified of their right to seek an appeal from the Agriculture Appeals Office within three months of the decision following review.
The bottom line is that farmers who submit an SPS application are agreeing to permit Department agents to carry out on-farm inspections. As there is provision for Department officials to turn up unannounced, applicants should be familiar with their rights and expect the unexpected.
This article is a general guide only. While every care is taken to ensure accuracy of information, solicitor and tax consultant Aisling Meehan does not accept responsibility for errors or omissions arising. Email: email@example.com