Could another duplicate field crisis be on the way for 2015?

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The Northern Ireland Agricultural Consultants’ Association (NIACA) has received confirmation from DARD that this year’s pre-printed field data sheets on 2015 Single Farm payment applications will not be pre-populated in the normal fashion of owned, leased and conacre land.

This is despite NIACA advising DARD in December that it was imperative that the normal practise of the field data sheets being pre-printed with owned land first, then with either conacre and leased land second or third be continued in order to avoid duplications and errors.

A NIACA spokesman said: “DARD is insisting in pre-populating the field data sheets in numerical order and removing completely the owned/conacre column.

“As 2015 is the start of the new system, the Basic Payment Scheme will be only payable to the person actively farming that parcel of land. In the past the landowner probably claimed the SFP and let the land in conacre. This practice of getting SFP and conacre will stop and landowners and farmers will have to realise it is either BPS or conacre, but not both.”

NIACA has told DARD that this will cause confusion when farmers complete their 2015 SAF as they will know which portions of land are owned and what is conacre. They will not know what land is being farmed and by whom.

NIACA members then had a meeting on 14th January 2015 with DARD officials and presented numerous examples of how errors and duplications occur when the field data sheets are not pre-populated in the normal order. The examples given and potential penalties being applied appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

NIACA also pointed out that in 2005 and 2013 when field data sheets were not printed in the order of owned land first; this practise was contributory to the duplicate field crisis that then occurred. NIACA were instrumental in having the field data sheets pre-populated by owned land first from 2006 onwards. NIACA also made it very clear to DARD that 2015 is a very important year for farmers to have their forms completed accurately as their new entitlements depend on it. Yet now DARD has ignored their advice and has ignored what happened in 2005 and 2013.

“As one member explained at a recent meeting with DARD officials using an example of a farm business that farms both owned land and conacre land, ‘completing this application would be like reading a book starting at page 20, going to page 30, returning to page 1, then to page 19 and so on...’.

“The potential risk of error and duplication has now increased significantly.

“Senior staff in DARD stated that they were not aware of the issue and it was now too late as forms were at the final stages of printing. NIACA have it on record that DARD were advised in 2006 that this practise must continue and again in 2013 and once NIACA were aware that the forms were going to be issued in numerical order in December 2014 they made DARD aware immediately that this practise will lead to errors and duplications that will cost unfortunate farmers thousands of pounds in penalties.”

The NIACA spokesman concluded: “Our members feel that as 2015 is a vital year in getting it correct they are advising all their clients, as well as all farmers who intend making a claim this year and the farming organisations to be aware that there is a serious risk of errors being made in the 2015 Single Application period and to redouble efforts to ensure that the application is completed accurately.”