Going back to basics this month will save time later in the year
The new year brings new opportunities and, undoubtedly many resolutions. Sometimes it can be hard to get the system going to think about the coming year particularly when income prospects do not look good and especially if there was an over indulgence during the Christmas period.
There is no doubt that the extremely wet weather over the last two months has added to farmers' difficulties and will certainly affect enthusiasm going forward for those people who were affected by flooding.
Nevertheless, as the saying goes, this too will pass and life goes on and opportunities will again present themselves from the most unlikely sources.
Being prepared is vital if opportunities are to be grasped.
Now is the time to set out your plan for the year. Very little is as important now on the farm as planning and submitting your Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) application which entails, among other things, satisfying the three crop rule and having sufficient ecological focus areas (EFAs).
This is the one job that can be done effectively at this time of the year and does not involve wellies or raincoats. A few hours spent considering your options, particularly talking to your advisor or consultant, will be time well spent and save time later when field work is more important.
Many farmers experienced delays obtaining BPS payments for 2015.
Much of this was blamed on the changed CAP and the new rules and regulations that arose. To date, I understand that there are less than 3,000 who have yet to obtain any payment unfortunately this does not give the full picture as there are many who are still to be paid the bulk of their entitlements.
This, I believe, is mostly to do with PCCs and TEAR forms that are still to be processed.
When planning for 2016, be aware that if you are amending or adding plots that accuracy will help to minimise delays.
It is essential that all ineligible features are removed from the land parcel claimed and if you are submitting new land parcels make sure you inform the owner/auctioneer to remove it from the previous applicant.
A large number of dual claims were reported this year.
Many of these were simple mistakes and could, I believe, be as a direct result of the difficulty that all advisors had with the Department of Agriculture computer system which crashed regularly and led to many lost days.
This, regardless of who is at fault, leads to payment delays but more importantly, penalties.
In 2016 the department is introducing Maximum Eligible Areas (MEA) for all parcels to replace what was previously known as the reference area. This was implemented for 2015 payments.
Where the MEA was below the 2015 claimed area the claimed area was reduced to the MEA and the payment convergence calculated accordingly.
If, in 2015, a farmer claimed above the reference area this over-claim applied to the MEA. For example, with a reference area of 9ha, if a farmer claimed 10ha and if the MEA established was 8ha, the 2015 over-claim subsequently stood at 1ha.
The MEA is the maximum to be claimed from 2016.
Again in 2016, if you intend to rent in or out land with entitlements discussions with your advisor at this stage will be helpful and may be the difference between this job being done right and you getting paid on time in 2016.
Hopefully the BPS application system for 2016 will be much more robust, simpler and more user-friendly.
It goes without saying that it is vital that farmers only submit plots that they are farming in 2016.
Judging by the number of phone calls to the office before Christmas, I anticipate many farmers will have difficulty acquiring sufficient lands to draw down all their entitlements.
This relates mainly to farmers who operate on conacre and who submitted rented land in 2013 and 2015 and now find that this land is no longer available to them.
The options for those farmers will be to either lease out the entitlements to somebody with "naked land" or sell the surplus entitlements.
However, there will be a 50pc claw back on the sale of entitlements without land. The sale of entitlements with land will suffer no clawback.
At this stage farmers should know their allocated number of entitlements.
Each entitlement requires 1ha of land to draw it down. If you are short of land efforts should be made now to try and secure extra land or consider the option to lease out entitlements.
It is likely that the leasing value of entitlements will vary and be driven by the availability of "naked land". Now is the time to act.
Pat Minnock is a Carlow based agricultural consultant and a member of the ACA and the ITCA. www.minnockagri.ie
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