‘Time for DARD shake-up’ – Rogers
The North’s Department of Agriculture is failing farmers due to the excessive administrative burden placed on them and, unless DARD takes action to reduce unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy, it must undergo a radical shake up.
That was the hard hitting message from South Down MLA Sean Rogers in the Assembly this week when he spoke in support of farmers who he said are at a distinct disadvantage from their neighbours in the South, especially when it comes to delivery and administration of Single Farm Payments.
During a debate on highlighting the legitimate concerns of farmers in respect of how the Single Farm Payment Scheme (SFPS) is implemented by DARD, Rogers expressed grave concern about the rising number of farmers seeking reviews of decisions taken by the Department in respect of applications for SFPs, and the bureaucratic nightmare they face, which he branded unacceptable.
Rogers told Newry Times, “The Department must expedite the processing of any reviews of decisions regarding SFPs, particularly in light of the difficult year farmers have faced. Farmers cannot face any unnecessary delay in availing of this crucial payment.”
The assemblyman referred to what he said was the failure by the Minister to get an advanced payment for farmers over SFPs. “There was an opportunity to avail of a 50% upfront payment on this year’s SFP in October, which the Minister failed to secure. Farmers living in the South availed of that advanced payment, unfortunately DARD failed to deliver an advanced Single Farm Payment.
“The North’s farmers have been placed at a distinct disadvantage to their neighbours in the South and that is unacceptable. What a difference an advanced payment would make to cash flow.”
Without radical reform of DARD, Rogers said the North’s agriculture and food processing industry will not develop and maximise its potential.
“We continue to miss the big prize. The public perception is that DARD has become remote and no longer that critical friend of 20 years ago. Farmers often say to me that visiting DARD officials are acting as enforcement officers rather than Farm Advisory Officers.
“I have no issue with penalising non-compliance, but very often the farmer gets penalised over a bureaucratic and administrative issue or negligible non-compliance.
“Given we have 3,000 public servants employed by DARD it would make sense to have 10% of them deployed as Farm Advisory Officers with clearly defined operational areas in order to build a consistent and productive relationship with farmers to ensure DARD becomes an enabling instrument of Government in order to maximise the economic contribution of the agri-food sector going forward.
“It will cost £400 million at least to implement the agri-food strategy – over the next three to seven years – a comprehensive shake-up of DARD is essential, timely and necessary , if we are to realise our economic potential from the land.”
Rogers concluded that a review of the operation and effectiveness of DARD is crucial to ensure “the goods are delivered and really kick start our economy”.
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