‘Single Farm Payments ‘a lifeline’ to farming industry’ – Rogers
SDLP South Down MLA Sean Rogers has given his firm support to the practice of single farm payments to the farming industry and emphasised their importance for the wider rural economy.
Rogers, speaking ahead of an Assembly debate on the issue of single farm payments said, “The prompt payment of Single Farm Payment is essential to keeping Northern Ireland’s largest industry buoyant in the present economic circumstances.
“An over cumbersome inspection process, resulting in many late cases and in some instances reduced payments is causing havoc. When farmers are doing their best to follow DARD guidelines, year on year they are encountering difficulties someone must take responsibility.
“Too often the farmer becomes the fall guy for too much bureaucracy and red tape. The month of December is typically a big pay-out time in the farmer’s calendar. There are many farmers who I have spoken to who are unable to finish their stock because they could not afford it.
He continued, “While the weather has contributed to cash flow problems the poorer quality feed has to be supplemented with bought in feedstuff to keep the milk yield up. Farmers have to contend with these difficulties including inspection.
“In 2011 many farmers in this category waited for 3 months for an inspection report on which they could comment. Many of these farmers needed assistance with interpreting this report. Inspection reports were checked retrospectively against SFP claims back to 2005.
“Once the report is agreed, it goes to Orchard House to be assessed. A decision is made to either apply a penalty or approve a payment. This process could take up to six months.
“We can only imagine the impact on the farmer and their family when they are unable to meet their banking commitments for an additional six months, but meanwhile life on the farm must continue. Late Payments are an increasing problem ranging from 450 in 2009 to over 1200 in 2011.
“These are not just a few weeks late but over six months late which is totally unacceptable. The Minister must act to alleviate the delays in payments for farmers. There have been many issues with mapping in recent times. The Minister and the Department place great emphasis on farmers checking their new maps,” Rogers explained.
“I recently spoke with a landowner who expressed concerns that a new map from the Department completely removed part of his holding and transferred it to an area that is publicly controlled. This begs the question, how the department can get it so wrong with the ready access to modern map technology.
“Farmers therefore must exercise vigilance to check their maps are completed accurately. Another issue of concern is the penalties that farmers may well face.
“I find it hard to accept that if a farmer makes the slightest error, he can have the book thrown at him and could cost him his SFP for perhaps up to three years, while on the other hand the Department tells us “we will continue to make mistakes in this complicated system that we operate” without fear of redress.
He added, “While I welcome the Departments commitment to reduce the regulatory burden in the farming industry they must move beyond paying lip-service to this ideal and turn it into a reality. I would also question why there are different regulations here for RDP than in Scotland.
“Farmers need an advance balanced payment system as farmers in the south of Ireland enjoy. Advance payments would help ameliorate the cash flow crisis being faced by farmers. We need the minister to take this case to DEFRA and Europe because our farmers deserve the same opportunities as those in the Republic.”
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