Tillage: Factor in extra time for the complexity of online applications
Tillage farmers are the group most affected by the new greening measures and three-crop rule. When we did the 2m buffer zones around watercourses, we calculated that we took about 2ac out of production to comply with the new rules.
We used our one pass to sow grass into the buffer zones. When we got our greening maps we checked that all our watercourses and buffer zones matched those on the maps.
The same checks apply when doing our online application. Every farmer has to do their application online this year. No more signing it and posting it back, they will not accept it. Having spent a long time going through it with our Teagasc advisor, Ivan Whitten, I must say I don't know how he is going to get through all of his clients, before the end date.
It is a very slow tedious task made even more difficult if you don't have access to good broadband. If you are a Teagasc client, make an appointment, give them plenty of time and don't leave it till the last minute. Remember if it is late going in, there is a 4pc penalty per day.
If you are not a Teagasc client you can submit the form online yourself. If you decide to do this my advice would be get someone to do it with you as a second pair of eyes is a great help. If one person is reading the maps and the other person is looking at the website it is much easier especially with so many small printed numbers. If you don't have very good broadband in your area find a local cafe, hotel or neighbour with better speeds. Even better, if you know of a neighbour or friend that is the same boat, you could help each other?
Another popular option is to get one the many private consultants to do it for you. Just make sure you understand all the costs involved. I have heard private consultants' rates vary hugely.
The advantage of going private is that they are fully trained in the whole system but the disadvantage is that they do charge for this expertise. And remember that no matter who pushes the 'submit' button it is your responsibility to have the information correct. So, if any third party makes a mistake, it's your name that is on the application form. Do all the changes you want before you hit that submit button as it is more difficult to amend the application afterwards.
I would advise every farmer to go online and have a look at all their maps. Make sure they match your farm. When we went online we discovered the fields that we previously split for two crops were missing, even though we had received them as paper maps. For the EFAs (Ecological Focus Areas) we also had a neighbour's field included in our application. These are very straight forward things to change once you spot them.
Take your time and go through it when you're under no pressure. Even if you don't want to make any changes yourself, it is really good to get familiar with the system. If we have to do this every year from now on we will need to learn how to use it.
The website has a built in safety net that will tell you your percentage of each crop once you put in what you are growing and whether you have more than three or not. It will also tell you whether you have enough EFAs. The Department is saying that once you are certain you are over the required 5pc of EFAs then you don't need to edit every single map this year. They are constantly updating the maps and the system to improve the quality of information.
The Department is also encouraging anyone that needs help to contact them. All queries relating to the new direct payments should be directed to the information centre. The information centre is open from 9:15am - 12:30pm, 14:00pm - 17:30pm (17:15pm on Friday) by appointment only. Telephone number 0761 064438. Email CAPdirectpayments@ agriculture.gov.ie
Philip and Helen Harris are tillage farmers in Co Kildare. Follow them on twitter P&H Harris @kildarefarmer.
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