New farm rules
Under proposals put out to consultation by DARD farmers in Northern Ireland who wish to claim the Less Favoured Area Compensatory Allowance (LFACA) on a block of land owned by a landlord who claims the Single Farm Payment, will be required to have a written conacre agreement in place.
SFP/LFACA dual claims have existed in NI since the start of the SFP scheme in 2005 and have been widely used.
For example in 2009 over 7,300 businesses claimed SFP worth €14.6million on 117,000 hectares of land which were simultaneously claimed under the LFACA Scheme by 5,200 different businesses drawing down £5.1m.
However, the EU Commission has raised objections to the use of dual claims, stating that it was unclear how one farmer could meet rules around cross-compliance (SFP) if the management of the land was being given over to another farmer (under LFACA).
A disallowance (or fine) was subsequently applied on the Department in 2010, although the actual size of the fine is not clear as it was part of the much larger 5% disallowance arising from issues relating to mapping (LPIS/GIS).
To date the Commission auditors have not stated that legitimate dual use claims are impossible, but that they are "very unlikely".
At present dual claims are not permissible in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, although they do exist in England and Wales.
Both countries have taken steps to enhance their controls, leaving DARD with little option but to do the same in NI. Failure to do so could result in further disallowance from Europe.
The challenge for the Department is to develop a control mechanism which can demonstrate that the conditions of the SFP and the LFACA Schemes are being met simultaneously by each applicant on the same piece of land.
To do this the Department has proposed that written conacre agreements are in place. This agreement (which would become a basic eligibility requirement of the LFACA scheme where dual claims exist) should specify that the land in question is at the disposal of the SFP applicant and is used by the LFACA Scheme applicant.
It should also affirm that the responsibility is on each party to meet cross compliance requirements.
A 'model' conacre licence agreement has been discussed between DARD and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and will be freely available.
In their consultation documents the Department make clear that it will not be necessary to submit a written conacre agreement when applying for SFP/LFACA. Instead applicants will be asked to declare that an agreement is in place. A random sample will then be checked.
Failure to have an agreement could result in the LFACA payment being held and penalties applied for over-declaration.
The consultation on the SFP/LFACA dual claims will close on 9 November 2012. Relevant documents can be viewed on the DARD website.
Commenting on the consultation, Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill said: "It would be my intention to introduce this requirement into the LFACA Scheme in early 2013."
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