AGRICULTURE Minister Michelle O’Neill has said that the error with some of the last set of farm maps issued has now been fixed.
Explaining that full farm maps will be made available for affected farmers the minister said: “Access to full farm maps are available through DARD Direct offices and farmers can visit or telephone to get a copy of their map. These maps are also available through DARD Online Services, which will allow farmers and their agricultural consultants or agents internet access to their full farm maps.
“In addition we will make fresh paper copies of these maps and issue these to affected farmers alongside their Single Application packs. Where farmers have notified us of changes needed to their map, these will be included.”
The minister added that she has directed her staff to delay the issue of Single Application Form Packs for farmers whose maps have been affected by this problem by two weeks.
She explained: “This extension will allow affected farmers two more weeks (up to 8 March) to advise DARD of any necessary changes and still allow them four weeks to complete their Single Application Form before the 15 May deadline. Whilst this time is shorter than originally planned, where farmers have advised us of changes in time, these will be included on the Single Application, which will help in completing the application form missing.”
Meanwhile UFU president Harry Sinclair said the minister’s decision should simplify the process and ease the pressures on farmers to ensure that their farm maps are accurate.
“While the issuing of new 2013 maps by DARD has caused a lot of confusion and problems for many farmers, nevertheless we welcome Minister O’Neill’s decision to accept the UFU proposal to delay the issuing of Single Farm Payment application packs by two weeks for those farmers whose maps are missing a considerable number of fields,” he said.
“Farmers affected by this problem have until the 8th March to advise DARD of any necessary changes, allowing any amendments associated with these maps to be made. The changes made can then be incorporated into the pre-printed field data sheets on their Single Farm Payment forms before they are issued. Our members have made it very clear to us that they would much prefer to receive a correctly pre-printed Single Farm Payment application a little later, rather than receiving an incorrect one earlier.
“We also proposed to DARD that they also delay the issuing of Single Farm Payment application packs to those farmers who had received fully completed maps but had difficulty obtaining an appointment at a DARD Direct Office before 22 February. However, unfortunately no action has been taken on this issue to date.”
Paul Frew MLA and DUP chairman of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee has slammed the minister for the confusion on the new farm maps.
Mr Frew stated: “The minister has been lecturing farmers for months now about making sure they check their maps when they arrive in the post and that the onus is on them to make sure what is on the maps is accurate. She and her staff have also told us that this is the way forward, these maps will make it easier to process the single farm payments.
“Yet when the maps come through the door we find that some of them are completely and utterly wrong. Up to Monday 11 February approximately 5,500 businesses have requested adjustments. This has involved around 10,000 boundary changes and just under 10,000 ineligible feature changes being made,” he added.
“In some cases whole fields are missing because of a software error. In one case a farmer owns 36 hectares, but on his map it had him owning three hectares.
“There was a delay for some 4,786 farmers receiving their maps and they were then told by DARD to make contact with local DARD offices within a week. That is simply not good enough.”
Farmers can contact their local DARD Direct office on 0300 200 7848.