Thursday 17 August 2017 10:56:27 AM

New Inspection Process Delays Farm Payments Says Stormont Committee
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THE Stormont Agricultural Committee which oversees the work of DARD has today voiced concerns that a new farm inspection process has resulted in payment delays to local farmers. Members are further concerned that farmers, whose land was inspected using the new process, were not informed in advance.

Rogers calls on Agriculture Minister to help farmers with hardship fund

South Down MLA Seán Rogers has called on the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Michelle O’Neill, to set up a hardship fund to support struggling farmers still waiting on unpaid Single Farm Payments as a matter of urgency.

Mr Rogers said: “I understand that the introduction of new remote sensing technology to monitor the use of land has resulted in unforeseen delays of payments. This comes despite initial hopes that the technology would actually streamline operations.

“Assurances that all payments will be finalised by the end of February are of little use to farmers faced with managing immediate cash-flow problems. The Minister must now act immediately to establish a hardship fund to ensure the Department’s blunder has minimal effect on the livelihoods of those farmers and farm workers awaiting payments”.

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The new remote sensing technology, recently introduced by the Department uses aerial imagery to examine land use and eligibility for single farm payment (SFP) and was intended to streamline and speed up payments.dn_screen

DARD had indicated that farmers were not informed of inspections because if they were informed and then made changes, it could leave the farmer subject to penalties.  It is expected that the majority of all inspections will be paid by the end of February.

Committee Chairperson Paul Frew MLA said: “Over 38,000 farms in Northern Ireland receive single farm payment (SFP) and it is an essential element within the rural community and an important economic driver for local farmers.

“We are extremely concerned that, farmers were not advised that their farms would be inspected using this new remote sensing process. Advance notice would have prepared those selected, to factor in the possibility of a delay in SFP and allowed for necessary financial planning to counteract any shortfall in revenue.”

Mr Frew continued: “The Committee has been supportive of the use of remote sensing as evidence elsewhere has suggested that it can actually speed up the inspection and payment process. We have written to the Minister to ask that she looks into this issue as a matter of urgency and provides reassurance to farmers who may be suffering financial hardship due to delayed payments.

Deputy Committee Chairperson Joe Byrne MLA added: “Committee Members have also been made aware that the majority of farmers affected appear to be in the same geographical locations.  Some of the farming communities that have experienced this difficulty may suffer cash flow problems.

“We realise that this is a new process and that there are bound to be some teething problems. However, we wish to ensure that these issues are addressed fully by the Minister so that they do not reoccur in the future.”