At this week’s Stormont Agriculture Committee meeting department officials revealed that a “significant number of duplicate field errors”, totalling 14,204 and affecting 3,324 businesses had been identified in this year’s single farm payment applications.
Commenting Mrs Dobson said: “This is an issue which has been raised with DARD time and time again, yet they appear to have been asleep at the wheel.
“The issue of duplicate fields is one which they should have sought to fix and resolve many months ago rather than have farmers and their families left waiting on their payments through absolutely no fault of their own.
“Whilst the new CAP brought in significant changes we were told that the department would be ready to address them, however farmers are now facing delays as a result of their clear inability to do so.
“When officials came before the committee their only answer to this issue was that they were ‘considering action’ to address the issue in future years. This is simply not good enough at a time when farming families need the lifeline which this payment provides.
“They were also unable to answer my questions around the situation in other jurisdictions of the UK and in the Republic of Ireland. There seems to be little willingness to look outside the box to get to the solution for our farmers.”
The Upper Bann MLA concluded: “Finally, when I asked them what their proposed actions actually were the only answer they appear to have was that they would encourage more farmers to submit their applications online. Surely this is not an answer to the question as multiple claims on fields can be submitted online just as they can through the traditional paper application process.
“This issue leaves the farmer who does have legal entitlement to receive payment in total limbo through absolutely no fault of their own. Businesses affected and families left without the lifeline of funding which the single farm payment provides.
“The Department of Agriculture needs to get on top of this issue as a matter of urgency and I am bitterly disappointed, after receiving previous assurances that they were addressing the issue, that they have failed so catastrophically and farmers as a result of that failure have been left to face the consequences.”