Farmer hits out over deadline for evidence

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A Co Antrim farmer has claimed DARD is not giving people enough time to provide evidence that they are ‘active farmers’.

The man is one of the 3,000 farmers who this week received letters requesting them to provide evidence to back up their claim for CAP Single Payment by 3 August.

He said: “The letter came today (8th) dated July 6th and it gives me until August 3 to provide evidence that I am an active farmer. It is hilarious,” he said.

The man said that the evidence requested included invoices, receipts, bank statements and accounts for 2015, but he claimed it would be difficult for any farmer to produce accounts when the financial year is not yet over.

“This is putting 3,000 farmers under a lot of pressure,” he added. “ How can I produce accounts for 2015 when it is not even over yet. They are also asking for invoices for crops grown in 2015. Most farmers need a wee bit of time to do things and it seems extraordinary we are only getting three weeks. I think Michelle O’Neill should resign over such a stupid letter.”

A spokesman for DARD said: “To be allocated entitlements under the Basic Payment Scheme in 2015, an applicant must be able to demonstrate that they are an active farmer, enjoying the decision making power, benefits and financial risks of the agricultural activity on each parcel of land for which they have requested entitlements. All 2015 applications are being assessed to determine the applicant’s eligibility as an active farmer. This includes reviewing the information already held by DARD for each applicant, including that submitted as part of the 2015 Single Application process. In some cases the evidence available is insufficient to make a determination and in these cases DARD has written to the applicant seeking additional information.

“Applicants who have received the letter are asked to confirm they are active farmers through providing details of the agricultural activity being carried out on the land they are claiming and providing relevant supporting evidence. Depending on the nature of the activity being undertaken the supporting documentation may vary, but examples include receipts and invoices for the sale of products and purchases of inputs. A timeframe of four weeks has been given for a response. For farmers actively engaged in farming activity they should readily have evidence available. However, it is acknowledged that some of the information may not be available at present. Where it is not possible to provide complete evidence within the timeframe specified, the applicant is advised to provide what is available and indicate when the remainder will be provided.

“The onus is on the applicant to prove they meet the scheme requirements and it is in their interests to respond to this letter in a timely way,” the spokesperson added.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Ulster Farmers’ Union has said the need for someone to be able to demonstrate they are actively farming was always part of the reformed CAP.

“That was fully understood from the outset. It was inevitable DARD would seek to avoid disallowances by European Commission auditors by being seen to police this effectively. While it may prove difficult for some farmers to meet the deadlines for information set by DARD, it is important inspections are robust and completed on a timely basis so that there can be no delay to the December targets for payments to farmers,” the spokesperson concluded.