With just over three weeks to go before the deadline for claiming single farm payments (15 May), just over 1000 of the 39,900 farmers who were sent application forms have completed and returned them in Northern Ireland.

One of the most common errors in Northern Ireland is a difference in the field area claimed compared with the information held on the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s (DARD) mapping system.

“Farmers are urged to check their maps and advise their local office of any changes on the form GIS2, contained in the 2007 Single Application pack,” said a DARD statement.

Applicants are also urged to remember the following points:

  • All agricultural land owned by the farm business and land leased out or leased in must be declared on the field data sheet. This includes any land not being used to support a claim for aid or which is considered ineligible for aid
  • Landowners and tenants should agree the precise terms of land letting arrangements and who has the right to claim payment of aid on individual fields before they submit an application
  • SFP can only be paid for land which is in fruit, vegetables or potatoes, if an equivalent number of authorised entitlements are held
  • In most cases, if land is over- or under-declared, including the duplication of land with another farm business, penalties will be applied and payment reduced
  • The 10-month dates chosen for SFP for 2007 must not overlap, even by a single day, with the 10-month period selected for the same fields for claims under the 2006 scheme

DARD is also warning that any standard entitlements allocated in 2005, which have not been claimed against in 2005 and 2006, must be used in 2007, otherwise they will be taken away and put in the National Reserve.

Farmers in Northern Ireland should have received an updated entitlement statement by mid-April.

  • Have both the application form and field data sheets been fully completed and all relevant questions answered?
  • Are enough entitlements held to cover all the area which the business wishes to activate for payment of SFP in 2007?
  • Have all the entitlements been activated?
  • Have all the set-aside entitlements allocated to the business been claimed before going on to claim standard entitlements?
  • Has the set-aside requirement been met?
  • Are sufficient Horticultural Authorisations held to cover land being used to claim SFP which is in fruit/vegetables/potatoes?
  • Has the form been signed?

The Ulster Farmers’ Union is advising its members to check pre-populated information on the forms very carefully and make sure all land on the farm is included.

If there has been a change of use, this must be specifed. “There are two major gas pipelines being build across Northern Ireland at the moment and a number of farmers are affected,” said spokesman Joe MacDonald.

“They should put the right code on their forms and attach a covering letter explaining the land use change.”

As ever, the duplicate fields problem is expected to arise again in 2007.

“Farmers and landlords must make sure there is a clear understanding between them as to who is claiming the single payment.”

One improvement, says Mr MacDonald, is that DARD has agreed to start on-farm inspections earlier this year.

“That should avoid delays to payments going out to farmers once the payment window opens on 1 December,”

But the UFU is concerned that some 4000 farmers still have not been paid their 2006 SFPs.

“This is worth over £20m and is causing real frustration to our members,” said Mr MacDonald.

“In some cases it is things as minor as a tree that was omitted from a claim, picked up during an inspection and means the field size has to be reduced.

“To our mind, communication has been very poor. Farmers have phoned up for an explanation and been told to go away, as the department has until the end of June to make a payment.”

The UFU has launched a new form filling service – Countryside Assist. Around 20 members have been trained up and are acting as “on the ground” advisers to help fellow farmers get their single payment applications in in a timely and accurate manner. UFU members receiving less than £3000 single payment can get the service for a fee of £40, while those getting over £15,000 will pay £100. Non-UFU members can also use the service, but for a higher fee. More information on 02890 370222

Other FWi single payment form guides: