DARD accused of ‘failing to deliver’

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DARD has been accused of “failing to deliver” for Northern Ireland’s arable farmers, many of whom are still in the dark on the greening requirements under the newly reformed CAP.

This week the Ulster Farmers’ Union accused the department of making a mess in relation to clarifying and communicating with farmers.

Speaking after a meeting of the UFU seeds and cereals policy committee, UFU deputy president Barclay Bell said: “While many of Northern Ireland’s farmers are exempt from additional greening requirements since their farms are considered ‘green by definition’ there are still a significant proportion, the majority of which are arable farmers, that will have to contend with the complex greening rules.

“Many arable farmers are only days away from seeding and unbelievably DARD has still not published a greening rule book. Surely we have officials within DARD who realise the practicalities of arable farming and that planning is required. Essentially, if no rule book materialises farmers will be planting blind with the hope that they have interpreted the greening rules correctly on their own, without any definitive guidance from DARD and this is simply not good enough. Understandably, farmers are incredibly frustrated and the lack of clear, unequivocal guidance on greening is adding unnecessary stress to an already stressful time of year for arable farmers.

“DARD need to recognise that this delay and uncertainty could have a serious impact on farm businesses and to ensure that farmers do not suffer penalties for having to make decisions at a time when they do not have official confirmation from DARD of the rules.

“The president has already raised these concerns directly with the Agriculture Minister and we have asked that CAFRE advisors be made available for on farm visits to help farmers subject to additional greening requirements ensure they meet these in order to qualify for the full greening payment under the 2015 Basic Payment Scheme. We have also insisted that since this situation has come about through no fault of the farmers, DARD must ensure no financial penalty is applied to the 30% greening payment in 2015 should a farmer make an honest mistake as a result of the lack of information. The committee has also red flagged DARD’s plan to issue a separate form for the recording of specific greening measures as this adds even more paper work and increases the potential for possible mistakes.”

A spokesman for the department said DARD is committed to keeping farmers informed and supporting them in their preparations for CAP reform schemes.

The spokesman said: “Since summer 2014, the department has used a variety of channels to communicate information and advice on greening to build farmers’ understanding of the greening rules and help them to decide if any of the greening exemptions are applicable to their holding. These include publication of a series of ‘Countdown to CAP’ bulletins, a greening bulletin and press articles; introduction of a suite of online support tools to aid decision making; direct correspondence with those farmers whose records indicate they may be likely to have undertake greening requirements in 2015; and a series of face to face workshops delivered through CAFRE.

“The workshops covered issues such as identifying arable land and determining Ecological Focus Areas and Crop diversification requirements and eligible crops, exemptions to the rules that will benefit many mixed farms and also crop diversification exemptions for specialist growers.

“Potential landscape features that can contribute to Ecological Focus Areas (EFA) requirement were discussed and for many growers these will have the potential to meet all their required EFA without further land being required. In all 16 greening events were held, comprising three information meetings during September and 13 follow-up workshops during December, January and February.

“Over 400 attended the information meetings in September with over 350 attending the follow-up workshops. Greening was also highlighted at a CAFRE/AFBI/UFU Potato conference during December with over 100 attendees and again at the CAFRE/Ulster Arable Society/UFU Arable conference during January with over 270 attendees.

“A ‘Guide to Area Based Schemes’ is nearing finalisation and will be available on the DARD website and by request in DARD Direct offices. It provides guidance and eligibility information on all area-based schemes which are available in 2015. This includes information about the greening payment with a particular focus on the steps a farmer needs to take to check if they have a greening requirement.”