Newry & Armagh DUP Assemblyman William Irwin MLA has said he is concerned over the level of fines being imposed on farmers over late testing.
Mr Irwin said farmers he had spoken to were completely in shock at the huge and crippling fines handed down to them by the Department.
He said: “I was contacted by a farmer this week who has been hit with a significant fine as a result of a late test which, when taken in context, was due to issues outside of his control.
“The fines being faced by farmers are totally crippling financially and at 35% of the total Basic Farm Payment anyone can see why losing this amount of payment would be so disastrous for the farm. In many cases farmers have followed the protocols and tested repeatedly, however then for reasons outside their own direct control, a late test has been unavoidable. The Department has then ruled that this has been an ‘intentional breach’ triggering the fine.
“In one particular case, a farmer had a test rescheduled during the summer when the department vet was on holiday, the farmer was also on holiday and subsequently the test was transferred to the farmer’s own vet, adding further delays as his vet was held up with other tests. The result of this was the farmer’s test was six days over the deadline for cross compliance fines.
“The farmer is now facing a possible cross compliance fine of £25,000 as a result of being a few days late in testing and in most cases farmers were totally unaware of the potential for a large fine in such circumstances. To me this seems totally wrong and immoral.
“A delay in a test is not beyond the realms of possibility for a farmer and I do feel that the Department should make it clear to farmers the consequences of late testing as this is something I believe farmers are not fully aware of.”
Mr Irwin concluded: “I know in the recent past I lobbied through the Department to have much more realistic rules set in a bid to make cross compliance a little more practical. I feel this issue is an area where officials could make some changes which would still promote disease control but crucially take into account those circumstances beyond the control of the farmer. I will be asking for an urgent meeting with the Department as the pressure on individual farmers is simply untenable.”