Topical issue – Cross compliance and its effect on farmers’ Single Farm Payments

PaulConnaughton-2-150x150

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this very topical issue for farmers in County Galway and across the country.

In recent weeks I have been contacted by a large number of farmers in County Galway who received letters from the Department of Agriculture concerning so-called overclaims on their Area Aid applications and are incensed that they may be retrospectively billed for past years.

These farmers applied on the area of land that appeared on maps supplied by the Department and in some cases on the area of land as measured by the Department’s own Inspectors following on from farm inspections.

I was contacted by one farmer who had an area aid inspection about 5 or 6 years ago and when he received the new altered maps he believed he had his duty done forever.  Then he found that the new aerial photograph has him penalised by another 0.5 of a hectare for the smallest of deductions ranging from  .01 to .20 of a hectare, spread out over the farm here, there and everywhere, including the lawn in front of his house.  This farmer is under the 3% penalty clause (or 2 hectares) but is now dreading another letter in the post in a few weeks’ time demanding payment back on whatever the so-called recovery of the Single Farm Payment may be.

 

All the farmers who spoke to me said they only wished to claim on eligible land and if there were some adjustments to be made following the aerial surveillance they would accept this.  But I believe there should be no retrospection whatsoever for the years past, given that it was the Department’s own maps which were used.

I believe that Minister Coveney must stand up at European level for Irish farmers as this is a most serious issue.  Natural justice would dictate that these farmers cannot be punished for something that is beyond their control.  Much of this problem is emanating from Europe and I believe that it is at European level that this issue has to be tackled.  Individual farmers cannot effect massive change within the system and that’s why I believe that this Government must take this issue up at the highest levels within Europe and press for a fair resolution for Irish farmers.

Penalising farmers retrospectively for something that is beyond their control, because they placed their faith in the figures supplied by the Department will simply crush all credibility in the current system and will have a severely negative impact on the attitude of farmers to farm schemes in the future.

There is another issue which is related to the issue under discussion and that is the length of time that the review process is taking.  For a start, many farmers will not appeal the overclaim as they should, feeling that they are taking on the might of the Department of Agriculture.  Personally, I will be urging all farmers to appeal all aspects of the overclaim that they feel are unfair.  Secondly, for those who do appeal, the process is taking far too long and the timeframe for decisions must be made much clearer and every effort made to ensure that the appeals are processed without delay.

In conclusion, I would urge you Minister to take this issue up at the highest level in Europe and make the strongest case possible for the farmers of Ireland who are being treated in a most unfair way and who fear incurring penalties for something that is beyond their control at a time when farmers, like people all across the community, are under huge financial pressure.