O’Neill Pledges Claims Support for Farmers in Shared Grazing Arrangements
Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has given a commitment to support farmers involved in shared grazing arrangements who are experiencing Single Farm Payment (SFP) claiming difficulties as a result of new mapping boundary changes.
The practice of shared grazing allows more than one farmer to claim on parts of fields. But this is not fully compliant with the European Commission’s requirements.
Explaining the recent changes, the Minister said: “Under previous arrangements, we sometimes allowed farmers to claim on parts of fields, even though these sub-divisions didn’t have a clear physical boundary. This practice was commonly known as shared grazing. However, it was not fully compliant with the European Commission’s requirements.
“The Commission wants to ensure that there is now only a single claimant on a field parcel and that that claimant is the farmer. Therefore, to meet the Commission’s requirement, land areas claimed by farmers in future must have clearly defined physical boundaries, a stock proof fence and not just, for example, a single line of barbed wire. Farmers also have the option to agree that only one person claims the entire field and trade the entitlements to allow this to happen, or, establish a legal common.”
The Minister added: “The majority of farmers have been able to come to an arrangement, but I am also aware that in some circumstances this change in approach could lead to difficulties. If there are circumstances where a number of farmers are actively farming a shared field and they can provide us with evidence to demonstrate this, and that sub-dividing that field with a fence is not a feasible option, then the Department will consider allocating notional shares of that field to each farmer in the same way it allocates common land. This will allow farmers who are genuinely carrying out agricultural activity on the land to use their share of that land to claim their SFP entitlements and allow the Department to exercise proper control over such allocations. This will however, be used only in exceptional circumstances where no other reasonable alternatives exist.
The Minister added: “As a result of a small number of concerns raised, I have asked that a specific staff resource be put in place to explain the options open to farmers who have difficulties in dealing with this issue. If a farmer has any questions regarding this matter they should contact their local DARD Direct office.”