Farmers in Scotland who include ineligible land in their single farm payment applications could find themselves automatically facing penalties, the Scottish government has warned.
Under tightened Single Application Form rules, failure to make deductions for hard features such as roads, ponds and new buildings will be deemed as intentional, resulting in farmers being fined.
Claiming for permanent, impenetrable vegetation like gorse or bracken or areas of scree could also be deemed an intentional error at inspection.
The Scottish government said it was important farmers double checked their forms to ensure their claims only covered eligible land.
“Including ineligible land could lead to severe penalties from the European Commission and there is very little margin for error,” said Richard Lochhead, rural affairs minister.
“If the claimed land becomes ineligible they must tell their SGRPID area office about the change of use – for example land now being used for the many road building or utility projects around Scotland.
“The vast majority of farmers already complete their SAF correctly, but it is important that these high standards are maintained to protect future payments.”
NFU Scotland said removing ineligible land from claims now would ensure farmers safeguarded their single farm payment and funding provided through the less favoured area support scheme.
“Many farmers leave the submission of their SAF to the last minute and this can often coincide with heavy spring workloads on the farm,” said union policy director Scott Walker.
“It is easy for an unintentional error to creep in. We would again urge members to take the time now to have a careful look at the land that they have claimed for, both for SFP and LFASS purposes, to ensure that only land that meets the eligibility criteria has been claimed.
“If this is not the case, do not ignore it and hope you don’t get an inspection. Be proactive, contact your local department with the details and withdraw the land from the claim.”
Mr Walker said removing inelgiable land from claim forms would not reduce single payments, provided that the total amount of land being claimed was equal to, or more than, the number of entitlements held.
“Unfortunately there is not an option to add additional land to your claim form,” he added.
“However, because of the draconian penalties that would apply if you are found to have claimed land that is ineligible, it is much better to lose a small proportion of support at this time rather than risking a severe penalty on your payments.
“In the worst-case scenario, all payments could be lost, so it is worth the time and effort to ensure your claim is sound.”