Ulster Unionist Party leader, Robin Swann MLA, has raised concerns about delays in processing remote sensing inspections and the impact that it has had on the cash flow of impacted farm businesses.
The North Antrim MLA wrote to DAERA after being informed by several sources of delays in results being sent from the Dublin based firm responsible for the remote inspections back to DAERA, resulting in farmers having to wait longer for their 2018 basic payments.
Mr Swann said: “Up until about 2012, if farmers had been selected for one of the random inspections checking the accuracy of their single farm payment claim, they knew they were in for a long and drawn out process and in all likelihood a major delay in receiving it.
“That’s why I welcomed at the time the decision by the agriculture department at Stormont to start using a new technique employing remote sensing – effectively satellite imagery.
“The benefit was that it drastically cut down on the number of physical farm inspections needed and most importantly greatly increased the speed of processing claims.
“Since 2012 the Department has progressively increased the number of checks carried out by remote sensing, and for the first time in 2018 100% of the on-the-spot checks were carried out remotely.
“DAERA have a contract with an external company - the ICON Group in Dublin – who carry out the remote sensing.
“Unfortunately, however, in recent weeks I had been contacted by a number of farmers that had been subject to one of these inspections and who were still encountering delays in receiving this year’s payment.
“In particular I was made aware of delays between the images being ordered and the results being sent back to DAERA.
“As a result I wrote to the Department in November seeking an urgent update. In their recent response to me the Department confirmed that all remote sensing results were returned to them from ICON by the end of the month. Whilst this will be welcome news for the remaining farmers still awaiting a final decision on their payment, it is regrettable that there was a delay in the first place with the company sending the results up again.
“This is especially disappointing as when I asked for the total cost to date of the Dublin contractor I was informed it came to an eye-watering £772,200.29.
“I have now been told by DAERA that they hope to have all BPS 2018 inspection cases processed by the end of December, which to be fair to DAERA would be a landmark achievement and one for which they do deserve commended for.”