Concern at DARD stance on active farmer

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Newry & Armagh DUP Assemblyman and Chairman of Stormont’s Agriculture Committee William Irwin MLA has raised concerns over how the Department defines an active farmer under the new Basic Farm Payment system.

Mr Irwin said he had a number of farmers contact him who had been farming for many years and on applying to the scheme were told they were not classed as ‘active’.

Branding the situation unfair Mr Irwin said he would be raising the concerns with the DARD Minister.

He stated: “For someone who has been farming for decades to be told that they are not classified as ‘active’ is certainly a concerning situation.

“I have had a number of farmers contact me and in each case those individuals have a long association with farming and these farmers own livestock, work the land and in every sense of the word are ‘active’ farmers.

“To enable a payment from the new system a farmer must be classified as an active farmer, therefore the Department must recognise farmers who have historically farmed the land.

“It is unfortunate that DARD cannot assess someone as active because they have downsized or if a young farmer has been given the opportunity to set up on their own.”

He said: “The extent of this problem was highlighted to me at this year’s Winter Fair and in my view excluding farmers in this way was not in the spirit of what the industry expected.

“There is a need for the minister and her department to address this matter and enable those farmers in this situation to gain active status.”

He concluded: “While I understand and have openly encouraged DARD to make sure only active farmers are allocated entitlements, it is clear that those who are genuine active farmers are being excluded and that needs to be addressed.”

A spokesman for DARD said: “One of the conditions for allocation of payment entitlements under the Basic Payment Scheme is that applicants must be able to demonstrate that they have the decision making power, benefits and financial risks in relation to the agricultural activity on the land they have claimed – this is the active farmer requirement.

“During the 2015 application process, the Department made significant efforts to highlight that a new control was being introduced this year to assure that only active farmers received Direct Payments.

“In June 2015, the Department reviewed the information it held about farm businesses in order to determine whether they met the active farmer requirement.

“In some cases the evidence available was inconclusive and in these circumstances further information and evidence of the agricultural activity carried out was requested.

“The information provided by applicants is being assessed. Where it demonstrates that applicants are actively farming all the land they claimed, they are confirmed as active farmers and their claims for payment are progressed.

“Where applicants fail to demonstrate they are actively farming all the land they claim, their applications are rejected. In a number of cases, the information provided by applicants does not conclusively demonstrate they are actively farming their claimed land. In these circumstances, applicants have been asked to provide further information at the latest by the 29 January, so consideration of their application can be progressed.

“Where an applicant is unhappy with a decision we have made, they can seek a review of this through the Department’s Review of Decisions’ procedure.”