A LOCAL MLA has hit out at what he describes as stricter regulations that are cutting farmers EU payments by up to 50%.
The UUP’s Tom Elliott, himself a keen farmer, spoke this week about how the European Union’s single farm payments are affecting farmers here.
He explained that a single farm payment is the annual funding that comes from Europe to farmers. “The farmers have an entitlement per acre. Most farmers have that to help them sustain better environmental practice, but, in more recent years, the inspections seem to be getting more strict.”
The department of agriculture and rural development (DARD) has confirmed that for 2013, new regulations are in place for the payments, which began in 2005, that remove ineligible vegetation, such as scrub, from an eligible area.
Therein lies a dilemma, according to Tom Elliott
“Now this year, they have worked back and said, if that scrub or rushes are there this year, we’ll check it on our satellites back to 2005.
“People are finding that they’re not only having a penalty this year, but a fine for previous years – and that’s resulting them having a reduced payment.
“People would find – and it depends on the level of penalties – I’ve had people in my clinic who are at 50% less on their single farm payments. So, if they’re getting a £5000 payment, it could be reduced to £2, 500.”
Mr Elliott noted that this could be money that farmers were ‘counting on’ as part of their yearly income.
“For individual farms – if people were budgeting to get £5,000 this year, and are only getting £2000, then they’re £3,000 short in a year that has been very very strenuous on the agriculture and farming industry.”
A DARD spokesman responded: “This eligibility criteria has been applied at inspection since 2005 and was outlined in the Guide to Land Eligibility booklet issued to all farm businesses in 2011.
“There has been no change to inspection procedure when applying the above criteria.
The spokesman concluded: “Farmers have always had a responsibility to claim only on eligible areas and to keep their maps up to date and correct.
“The main change now is that the Department is in a better position to enforce this, where farmers fail to comply.”
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