12 May 2000
Hardware to stop wiring-up of farmers?
By Alistair Driver
LACK of computer power could hinder government plans to transfer subsidy applications to the Internet, according to early indications from a MAFF trial.
The trial, run by the Anglia Regional Service Centre at Cambridge, is being monitored by ministers who want farmers to submit applications electronically.
The pilot scheme began on 8 March and involved 221 farmers who were selected at random from about 1000 that came forward.
Farmers were given smart cards for internet access to archived subsidy forms, containing the previous years information about their farms.
But some farmers had difficulties installing the smart card and found that their computers werent powerful enough to cope with the system.
Another drawback experienced by some producers was that the forms needed to support the base IACS form and field data could not be submitted electronically.
Ross Haddow, who manages a North Norfolk farm, said the slowness of his computer was the biggest problem he faced during the trial.
But, he said, it was still quicker and easier to submit forms by the Internet.
The trial included a phone helpline which Mr Haddow described as “helpful and extremely well-briefed”.
The form was designed to be “intelligent” so that it corrected mistakes as farmers filled in this years details.
Barrie Stedman, MAFF deputy regional director, said there were 164 successful submissions by the deadline at the end of April.
He added: “There were teething problems, but the whole point of a pilot scheme is to identify where improvements can be made.”
Mr Stedman said the trial illustrated the cost savings that could be made by MAFF through staff not having to input data.
The system will also speed the process up for farmers and third parties completing forms on their behalf, he claimed.
“We are going to pool the information so we can map out the way forward for next year when the ministry will be offering electronic forms to all farmers.”