3 May 1996

Be a model form-filler

By Philip Clarke

ITS that time of year again!

Some farmers claiming Brussels subsidies will have already completed their IACS forms. Some of these may have even had them returned for amendment.

But the majority of farmers – over two thirds, according to MAFF figures – have left filling in their IACS claims to the last three weeks.

The deadline of May 15 is lodged in most peoples minds. But still a surprisingly large number of farmers (1600 last season) fail to get their forms in on time, despite the fact that penalties mount up for each day late.

This year there is a bit more leeway for late-comers, as Brussels has agreed to extend the period during which it will still accept forms from 20 to 25 days.

But for each working day late, there is an automatic 1% cut in the subsidy available for every scheme applied for – including the 1997 Hill and Livestock Compensatory Allowance scheme. Thus a claim that arrived 20 working days late might result in cereal area aid falling from £274/ha (£111/acre) to just £219/ha (£89/acre), and beef special premium from £93/head to £74/head, (assuming no green £ changes and no scale backs).

There have also been changes to the penalties for inaccuracies in the forms, in particular, for overstating the area of land or number of animals on which subsidies are claimed.

For example, if the discrepancy for individual crop groups is found to be between 3% and 20%, then aid will be based on the actual area rather than the claimed area, and will be scaled back by twice the percentage difference found. (This is a more streamlined and slightly more penal formula than applied last year.)

A similar system applies to livestock numbers, where differences in the number claimed and the number kept of 5% to 20% will lead to reductions in headage payments of twice the discrepancy found.

Premiums void

No premiums or area aid at all will be paid for errors of over 20% for each crop group or animal type found. The same applies to set-aside, though this year such inaccuracies will only result in the loss of the set-aside payment, rather than the whole IACS claim as has occurred in the past.

Other changes this year include the introduction of a "forage only" booklet and a shortened base form for those farmers only applying to the livestock schemes.

These have been sent to all farmers who declared no eligible arable land last year. Where applicants have since acquired land eligible for the arable area payments scheme, they should contact their nearest MAFF regional service centre for the full booklet and form.

"Feedback from our survey last season showed that farmers found it difficult to locate the bits of the paperwork that were key to them," said a MAFF spokeswoman. "This year we have tightened the text, used more diagrams and introduced colour-coding to help them find their way around each booklet."

MAFF has also abandoned the old green Field Data Sheet used to record new land and other more complex changes to a holding. "This is because some farmers were still transcribing their entries from the Field Data Printout to the Field Data Sheet when they didnt need to. Weve now reached the point where most eligible land has been registered," explained the spokeswoman.

Instead, all farmers have been sent blank Field Data Printouts (also green) on which to record changes to existing fields, while a new form (IACS24) is available on request if anyone has to register new land.

New procedures have also been introduced to apply for new field numbers. This should have been completed by Mar 1. But where field boundaries have changed since that date, or farmers have missed the deadline, applications for new numbers should accompany the IACS form.

Livestock claimants are also reminded that the maximum stocking rate for beef special premium and suckler cow premium has been reduced from 2.5 livestock units a hectare to 2lu/ha under CAP reform rules. On mixed holdings, calculating the forage area available for beef cattle is only done after the numbers of dairy cows and sheep have been accounted for.

Livestock farmers in upland areas should also check column E of the Field Data Printout which, for the first time, gives the LFA-status of each field. This will affect any payments under the HLCA scheme, as well as any supplements for sheep annual premium.

MAFFs advice generally is to check everything, starting with last years Field Data Printout, then check it all again.