NEWRY & Armagh DUP Assemblyman and Stormont Agriculture Committee member William Irwin has said he has been “inundated” with complaints from farmers who have discovered significant discrepancies in their recently issued LPIS farm maps.
Mr Irwin who highlighted concerns in recent weeks at the Stormont Agriculture Committee says the issue seems to be more widespread than first thought and has caused alarm in the farming community.
He said he has listened to the concerns of a large number of farmers who have received the new maps but who find that where larger areas of ground exist, without defined boundaries, the ownership of the land is wrongly detailed.
Laying the blame firmly at the door of DARD and the minister, Mr Irwin stated: “This really is simply not good enough. Around £20 million has been spent by DARD on the new mapping scheme, all with the desired aim of meeting EU guidelines and avoiding the expense of paying non-compliance penalties.
“I am now more concerned than ever owing to the number of farmers who have contacted me livid that the new maps are showing major mistakes in the ownership of land. I have been dealing with cases where farmers are missing fields in instances and gaining fields in other cases, it is also clear that these mistakes are accounting for significant swathes of land.”
He added: “The really infuriating thing is that in these situations the farmers have told me that their previous maps did not contain such errors, so the fact is in these cases millions of pounds have been spent and we are really no further forward.
“DARD say that unless there is a well-defined boundary to a field then they have difficulty in identifying ownership and accurately stating which land owner it is attributed to. I find this rather strange and when we look at other EU countries, where farming practices are on a much larger scale and fields can run for some distance without any specific boundaries or fencing, it exposes DARD’s excuse as rather pathetic.”
Mr Irwin concluded, “I will be raising this matter again in the Assembly as farmers are demanding that the department is held to account. DARD is on record as stating that they hope the new system will make the processing of Single Farm Payments a faster process, these latest difficulties do not fill me with confidence that this outcome will be realised.”
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland Agricultural Consultants Association (NIACA) member Eddie Johnston has told Farming Life that the new farm maps are not fit for purpose when it comes to meeting the needs of producers who farm ‘common land’.
“The new maps are coded in ways which attribute a ‘zero’ acreage to these areas, which includes land running down to rivers and areas of bog,” he added.
“A significant number of farmers are affected, all of whom have been farming in this way for generations. Fencing off the individual parcels of land is not a practical option. And DARD officials should know this! The only answer is to revert to the old farm maps in these cases. The issue of duplication will not arise if this approach is taken.”
Eddie Johnston concluded: “NIACA members have a good working relationship with officials in the various DARD Direct offices. It’s up to the staff in Dundonald House to take a more realistic approach where cases of ‘common land’ arise.”