Farmer fury as DARD continues to fail on CAP rules clarity

Friday, 13 March, 2015

Following a week of intense conversations with members the Ulster Farmers’ Union has said many farmers are at their wits end as DARD continues to make painstakingly slow progress in clarifying key CAP implementation rules and regulations.

UFU President Ian Marshall said: “Myself and the rest of the leadership team have been fielding calls all week from very concerned and irate farmers who are all incredibly frustrated at the lack of guidance, progress and information forthcoming from DARD on key CAP issues, such as greening and land availability. It beggars belief that we are in mid-March and there are still so many unanswered questions.

“Many farmers are feeling seriously let down by the Department and there appears to be very little understanding amongst senior DARD officials about the practical realities of farming. Arable farmers in particular are finding themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place as detailed guidance on greening still has not materialised and yet now is the time that decisions have to be made about spring planting. We have been hounding DARD on this issue for some time now and it is completely unacceptable that things are no further forward. The recent revelations around greening requirements that Ecological Focus Areas will have to be mapped are not helping matters. The fact that we are at such a late stage and this information is only coming to light is extremely disappointing. Farmers expect and deserve more from a Government department. As this situation has come about through no fault of farmers, DARD must make a commitment that no financial reductions will be applied to the 30% greening payment in 2015 should a farmer make an honest mistake as a result of DARD’s failure to supply accurate guidance in a timely manner.

“The businesses of many potato and vegetable growers still hang in the balance as there has been no progress made on finding a solution to land availability issues. We are still waiting for the promised tele-conference between the UFU, DARD and EU Commission officials but the fact that it is nearly two weeks since our trip to Brussels and we are no further forward is very disheartening. When we met EU Commission officials recently, they could not understand why the issues were so complex or why DARD appeared to have made things so complicated. Failure by DARD to appropriately address the active farmer issue in 2013 discussions and the subsequent failure to inform the industry about the possible provision of Private Contract Clauses (PCC's), which could potentially alleviate land availability issues for potato and vegetable growers, whereby two genuinely active farmers could rent land between their businesses, are also a major concern.

“A separate but an increasingly concerning issue that many farmers are now flagging up is the potential impact on direct payments should the Regional Reserve be oversubscribed, especially as at this stage there is no capping mechanism in place. There are already indications that some farmers are ‘splitting’ their businesses so that their son or daughter can take advantage of the Regional Reserve entering into the system as a new entrant and immediately drawing down the €329/hectare. Many farmers are genuinely worried about what impact these actions would have on the overall structure of the industry and in particular the impact on individual direct payments if the Regional Reserve is oversubscribed. It is possible that further significant reductions will have to be taken from individual direct payments to cover these new entrant applications. Farmers are further frustrated following reports that there are plans in ROI to cap the pot of money available for the Regional Reserve at 3%.

“Farmers are fed up having more questions than answers when it comes to the CAP rules and regulations. We have met with the Minister and senior DARD officials frequently in the last few months and again this week to stress the urgent need to see these issues addressed and reiterated our offer to work with them to find solutions, but our concerns and offers seem to keep falling on deaf ears. With the countdown on for planting and direct payment applications we are looking to DARD to show immediate leadership. For a start, we want to see the greening guidance made available as soon as possible, a satisfactory resolution to the potato and vegetable grower land availability crisis found, and reassurance that DARD will ensure the Regional Reserve is not abused. The uncertainty caused by the continued delay, lack of progress, and lack of clarity on these significant CAP issues means many farm businesses are in limbo and farmers are being forced to make decisions without all the facts. The consequences of these ‘best guess’ decisions may be detrimental to a farm business, not only hindering any growth and development of that business but also the wider industry. Ultimately, DARD will be held responsible if they do not make quick progress, as they will not only have failed farmers but the wider industry as a whole.”