On-line target of 70% falls short

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Farmers in Northern Ireland face the prospect of not receiving an advance on their single payment this year, because on-line application rates fell short of the 70% threshold target, previously flagged up by former farm minister Michelle O’Neill.

Figures released by the new Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (DAERA) confirm a 62% on-line application rate for 2016. The equivalent figure for last year was 46%. Up to this point 25,455 single applications have been received by the Department. Of these 15,764 were submitted online (62%), compared with 12,789 (46%) in 2015. This means that 4,013 farmers switched to on-line in 2016.

DAERA has also confirmed that 1046 producers applied for Young Farmer and/or the Regional Reserve - including as a new entrant.

Welcoming the increase in on-line applications a DAERA spokesperson said: “Following discussions with stakeholders and farmers we made significant improvements to the online service in 2016. It is encouraging to note that 62% of Single Applications were submitted on-line, an increase of 16% from 2015.

“Whilst the target of 70% was not reached, it will be for the Minister of DAERA, once appointed, to make a final decision on whether advance payments can be made in October 2016.”

Throughout the 2016 Single Application Form (SAF) process, the Ulster Farmers’ Union were given regular updates on the number of farmers using the online system when applying.

A Union spokesperson commented: “Following the May deadline initial discussions have already taken place with DAERA about the possibility of advance payments in October 2016 and also around preliminary checks. Overall the online application process was an improvement on last year with 62 per cent applying on-line compared to 46 per cent in 2015.

“The UFU had been made aware of the technical difficulties experienced by those completing the on-line greening application and raised this with the department.

“The UFU hopes the on-line application process will improve further next year, but broadband access and quality would need to improve greatly. This is not only essential for completing the SAF form going forward but for general access to services as the E- Government agenda is implemented.”