THE SOIL Association has accused Welsh Assembly officials of over-zealous interpretation of EU rules when calculating organic farmers’ entitlements to single farm payments.
It has said that WA officers are turning down applications from farmers who wanted to change the reference years used to work out historic CAP payments.
This was necessary to take account of the gap between the start of conversion and the signing of an Organic Farming Scheme agreement.
Many farmers started their conversion in 1999 and began cutting stocking rates, but were unable to get OFS contracts until very much later.
Their subsidy claims were therefore lower during the reference years, but when they made hardship claims officials demanded that an agreement was in place before stock numbers were cut.
Applications were being rejected despite long delays in processing OFS applications, which had been acknowledged by Carwyn Jones, the Assembly’s rural affairs minister.
EU legislation would allow the use of the alternative reference years 1997 to 1999, when most Welsh organic farmers’ production was not affected.
“WA officials are asking for the impossible,” said Phil Stocker, the Association’s head of food and farming.
“There will always be a gap between the start of conversion and the signing of an OFS agreement, and this gap is often not the fault of the farmers affected.”
He added that the Association wanted the minister to confirm the reason for rejecting the hardship appeals, and to re-assess the applications as a matter of urgency”.