DAERA offers extension on request to EFS completion dates

UFU leaders Barclay Bell and Ivor Ferguson looking at some of the flooded fields on farms in the Sperrins. Picture: Cliff Donaldson
UFU leaders Barclay Bell and Ivor Ferguson looking at some of the flooded fields on farms in the Sperrins. Picture: Cliff Donaldson

Farmers who are facing difficulties in meeting completion dates for Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS) Wider agreements due to prolonged period of wet weather can apply for an extension for non-arable options, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has announced.

Under the terms of the EFS many of the Wider level options for items such as watercourse stabilisation fencing, tree and hedge planting include specific completion dates of 01 June 2018 so that full environmental benefit is realised over the five year period of the scheme.

A DAERA spokesperson said: “We’re aware that some farmers may not be in a position to complete the works contained in their EFS agreement by 01 June 2018 as they have not been able to get onto the land to carry out the work due to the prolonged period of wet weather.

“Where practical, the Department would still like to see all the items on EFS agreements completed by the dates indicated on the relevant information sheets so that claims on the SAF accurately reflect the work completed. However, if this is not possible, we want to alleviate some of the pressure on farmers by providing an option to extend the completion dates for non-arable options up to 31 December 2018.”

The Ulster Farmers’ Union says DAERA’s decision to extend the completion deadline is good news and something the Union pushed for, for some time.

UFU environment chairman Wilbert Mayne added: “The prolonged wet weather over the last year has meant farmers have struggled to complete routine work on farm – let alone the additional work required under EFS agreements. We have had many calls from farmers concerned about meeting various agreement deadlines. We wrote to and subsequently met with DAERA to outline our concerns and the need for some flexibility around the deadlines. We are pleased they listened and have advised farmers of their options.

“The extension is good news and will help to take some of the pressure off. The key thing for any farmer availing of the extension is to ensure they manage their claim as the year goes on and make amendments if they are unable to complete work. This will help them avoid the possibility of receiving a penalty for over-claiming.”

DAERA has outlined the following implications of requesting an extension.

The spokesperson added: “All EFS participants must claim for their work on the 2018 Single Application before the closing date of 15 May 2018. If you haven’t all your work completed and request an extension you should make sure that your claim remains accurate. You may need to manage your claim during the year by reducing it if you complete less than the claimed amount otherwise over-declaration penalties may apply. If you request an extension and are selected for an inspection, your payment may be delayed.

“Extensions can only be given up to the 31 December 2018, so all work must be completed by this date. As a last resort, participants who have not managed to complete any work on their EFS agreement may wish to consider cancelling their agreement and re-applying in the August application period. However there is no guarantee that such re-applications would be successful.”

Farmers who recently signed up to the EFS Higher scheme automatically have until 31 December 2018 to establish their options listed under Year 1 of their agreement. They too must complete their claim within the 2018 SAF by 15 May.

Farmers who wish to apply for an extension must do so by 01 June 2018 via email to efs@daera-ni.gov.uk or writing to EFS, DAERA CMU, Molesworth Place, Molesworth St, Cookstown, Co Tyrone, BT80 8NX.

Make sure you specify the option(s) you want an extension for, for example watercourse stabilisation fencing. Extensions can only be given if requested and approved by DAERA and must be made by 1 June 2018.