Review of Common Agricultural Policy across the EU will herald significant changes in payments to farmers
After a review of the Common Agricultural Policy across the European Union this year, 2015 will herald significant changes in payments to farmers. The eligibility rules will change, so my department currently has a major focus on communicating these new rules to farmers.
While the new European schemes are more complex overall, I have sought to ensure that farmers have all the information available to help them make informed decisions. Nevertheless, the new rules are challenging and farmers should take advice to avoid costly mistakes.
I want to avoid money being wasted in future through farmer penalties and financial correction from Brussels (disallowance) - a real problem in the early years of Single Farm Payment (SFP).
Economically, farmers are having a difficult time at present. So the fact that the department has achieved its Single Farm Payment target of 93% of claims paid in December (including over 900 inspection cases) will make a real difference on the ground.
The new payments for 2015 are the Basic Payment, the Greening Payment and the Young Farmer Payment.
One of the biggest changes here is that the payments are not designed for landowners who let their land in conacre. The eligible claimant is the active farmer using the land. It is not sufficient simply to be the owner of the land. The department will put new controls in place to identify claimants who are not themselves the active farmer.
The Greening Payment will have particular implications for farmers who have larger areas of arable land and the Young Farmer Payment is intended for younger farmers with a qualification who are taking control of the farm.
The detailed rules and requirements are largely in place now and a considerable amount of information is available on the Department's website (www.dard ni.gov.uk). There is also a series of public information meetings planned.
My message to claimants in 2015 is simple: make sure you claim online rather than on paper, make sure your maps are accurate and make sure you meet the eligibility rules to ensure faster payment.
Michelle O'Neill is Sinn Fein Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development