06/04/2011

DARD Flies In With Farm Payments

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NI farmers are really getting on the map with news that the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) is again to use aerial photography to assess eligibility for EC Single Farm Payments.

DARD is delivering the Single Application Form (SAF) packs for 2011 this week following the distribution of a special pack containing a booklet 'Guide to Land Eligibility' and aerial photographs of land claimed in 2010.

A Departmental spokesman said: "We want farmers to have the best possible information available when completing their 2011 application for Single Farm Payment (SFP).

"It is important that they only claim for eligible land, and the photographs and booklet will assist in identifying land that may not be eligible.

"Later this year farmers will receive a new map. In the meantime, farmers should make appropriate deductions for ineligible land from their 2011 claim, by walking their fields and consulting the photographs, and they should inform the Department of mapping changes using the forms provided," he said.

The spokesman continued: "The Department will take account of these notifications when preparing the new maps.

"As it is not realistic to complete this work in time for the 2011 application process, the Department will not issue new maps at this stage but will take the notified changes into account during 2011 inspections."

EU farm ministers adopted a fundamental reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and introduced a new Single Payment Scheme (SPS) for direct subsidy payments to landowners.

The system of subsidy applies throughout the European Union according to rules agreed between the member states.

The scheme is intended to support its farm sector by removing the link between subsidies and production of specific crops.

But the farm subsidy is not without problems as, last summer, Europe sought the return of £60m for payments made in error to farmers in Northern Ireland.

The problems were discovered by European auditors who were sent to Northern Ireland to carry out spot checks on some of the individual subsidy claims made by farmers.

In total Europe provides €300m to local farmers annually while the individual subsidy claims are administered locally by DARD and when the European Commission sent in its team of auditors, they discovered many of the maps farmers had sent in were not accurate.

The hope is that this year's maps and claims will be more accurate and prevent further fines being imposed.

Eclipse

Northern Ireland's level of Single Farm Payment is already eclipsing that of all the other parts of the UK - with the payment per hectare at €360 as compared to the average UK rate of €262 - being much more than either Scotland, Wales or England.

The big difference on the local rate of SFP was mostly "historical" and related to the way in which such payments had been claimed by the agricultural sector, but, put into context, farmers in Greece are also paid a huge €550 per hectare while Latvia is paid just €90.

This focuses on consumers and taxpayers, while giving farmers the freedom to produce what the market wanted.

The payment is linked to meeting environmental, public, animal and plant health and animal welfare standards and the need to keep land in good agricultural and environmental condition.

Ongoing CAP reform for the period 2014 to 2020 is expected to see the overall budget reduced and see a move toward limiting CAP and possibly the imposition of a flat rate Single Farm Payment system too.

See: NI Farm Payments 'Eclipse UK'

(BMcC/GK)

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