Ear tag in cow's ear ©Tim Scrivener©Tim Scrivener

Northern Ireland is easing the rules on how it applies penalties if it finds missing ear tags when inspecting cattle.

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (Dard) has announced a change in a number of the rules relating to cross-compliance checks.

Under the current system, penalties are applied if 10% of cattle within the herd or 20 animals (whichever is the lowest) has a tag missing when inspected.

See also: 10 most common cross-compliance breaches and how to avoid them

However, from 2016 the penalties will only apply if 15% of animals in the herd are found to be in breach of the requirement to have two yellow plastic ear tags.

This implementation of this new approach will also be backdated to the beginning of the 2014 scheme year, meaning farmers who have been penalised since then will have their cases reviewed.

In contrast, the rules are being tightened for farmers who are late notifying birth, deaths and movements of any bovines.

Until now, when the authorities calculated cross-compliance penalties only late notifications identified during an inspection were taken into account.

However, Brussels has advised Dard it must take all late notifications made between the start of the scheme year up to, and including, the date of the completion of the inspection into consideration when calculating penalties.

The Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) welcomed confirmation that the new approach to tags would be applied retrospectively to January 2014 as it had been lobbying for some time for a change in the rules.

“This is welcome news for those who found themselves over the original threshold, mainly because they fell on the wrong side of the 20 single missing tags rule,” said UFU president Ian Marshall.

The union was aware of one farmer with 23 missing tags in almost 700 cattle, who had been hit with a substantial four-figure fine.