Speaking at a presentation at the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture this week, IFA President Eddie Downey said the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney and the Department of Agriculture have to provide clarity immediately for farmers on the land eligibility issue.
Eddie Downey said the lack of clarity on this issue has led to disallowances in the past and the potential for significant fines on the country. “No farmer should have a fine imposed restrospectively, and neither individual farmers nor the country can be exposed in the future.”
IFA has expressed serious concerns for some time about the lack of clarity which exists on eligible land under the new Basic Payment Scheme. Farmers expected that this would have been addressed and clarified at the recent Department of Agriculture CAP meetings throughout the country. IFA strongly believe that this was the forum for this issue to be addressed.
Eddie Downey said at a recent Charter of Rights meeting, it was agreed that the Department of Agriculture would send out a booklet on eligible land to every farmer in advance of the application process. This must happen immediately. “Farmers are entitled to be given practical guidance on this vital issue and it is the job of the Department of Agriculture to provide this. I understand that discussions are continuing between the Department of Agriculture and the EU Commission on this important matter.”
The IFA President said without guidance, farmers are being left in a very precarious situation as they are uncertain whether to include certain lands or to exclude them. There is a real serious concern that farmers could take out areas which would be eligible for payment.
“It is important that there is a fair degree of tolerance given to farmers as it is quite an inexact science determining whether land is eligible or not. This is particularly the case in large parts of the country where there is mountainous and other marginal land areas. Much of this land is designated as Natura as well as commonage. However, this is a significant issue across the country in all counties where there is marginal land. In fact, most farms have some marginal lands and have adjusted for this.”
On inspections, Eddie Downey said IFA is particularly concerned on the overzealous approach of some inspectors on the issue of land eligibility and cross compliance. Recent information on the level of penalties on a county by county basis obtained by Parliamentary Questions shows this to be the case with way higher penalties in some counties.
The Minister must proceed immediately to introduce a new Charter of Rights involving:
– Proper and fair notice of inspections
– A reduction in overall inspections
– Increased tolerances
– A yellow card system with reduced penalties
– An improved payment deadline.
These discussions have been ongoing for some time and need to be satisfactorily concluded by the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney now.