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Kirwan Agriconsultants Ltd.

17 Emmet St, Birr, Co. Offaly                                                  

Phone: 057 9125410 / 057 9169816

Email: info@agriconsultants.com

Monamolin, Gorey, Co. Wexford

Phone: 053 9389807

Email: wexford@agriconsultants.com Kirwan Agri

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Article for April

The week began with an email from our local County Enterprise Board advertising their latest training services which they provide to small businesses and ended on Friday with a training course run by the Department of Agriculture as part of the programme to set up a Farm Advisory service.  There was never a better time to run or start a small business in the country in terms of training, mentoring and general assistance provided by the state through Leader, County Enterprise Board, Local Development Bodies , Enterprise Ireland etc,etc.  Millions and millions of euros are pumped into the sector through these bodies.. Everyone seems to appreciate the importance of training and assisting people to run their own business.  Everyone outside Agriculture that is. 

On Friday we were told by the Department that the advisory service which was to be provided free to thousands of Irish farmers under the umbrella of Cap reform will now have to be paid for by individual farmers. It was planned initially that farmers receiving 15,000euro or more in Single Farm Payments would qualify but now the realisation has dawned that pretty much every farmer could benefit from a visit from his Consultant.  The money to pay for this was to come from modulation funds.  Unfortunately the farm organisations involved in the Partnership talks put a stop to this and seem not to be in favour of a free service being provided to farmers.  This is most unfortunate and extremely short sighted in my opinion and marks Agriculture out as the one sector of the community which seems according to the representative bodies not to need or want an Advisory Service. 

At this stage its unclear where the money marked year marked for this service is gone.   More than likely back into central funds.  This is an unfortunate loss to farmers as back in the autumn of 2005 when  preparing our submission on REPS 4  a delegation from ACA visited Brussels and where told by officials there that they would have no problem with the Advisory Service been integrated with the REPS scheme to allow part of the cost involved in drawing up a REPS plan to be offset against the Advisory Service.  In other words people could have their REPS plan done for a fraction of the cost.  In a couple of (hopefully short) months we will have REPS 4 launched and as sure as night follows day this will be followed by the usual whining from the Farm Organisations regarding the costs of plans and the cost of compliance.  The same people who vetoed  the free advisory  service. 

The purpose of Friday’s course was to train Consultants and to allow us to be registered by the Department as Service providers under the Farm Advisory Service (FAS) as it is to be known.  The service will provide farmers with information on the Nitrates Directive and advice on a farm specific basis as to what changes are needed to assist the farmer in complying with the Nitrates Directive.  It also covers ground water, sludge disposal, the food and feed hygiene checklist, GAEC, habitats, tagging registration of calves, safe use of pesticides and animal welfare i.e. all the topics which can be covered by a Cross Compliance inspection.  The aim of the service is to prepare farmers for inspections.

One interesting bit of information to come from the course  is that from now on penalties will be applied not just to the Single Farm Payment but also to all farm  payments e.g. REPS, Disadvantage Area payments etc.  So although the vast majority of penalty will be small ranging from 1-15% when the Disadvantage and REPS payments are added to the total, the final sum can be quite large. In fairness to the Department they do seem to be making every effort to help farmers minimise the number and amount of penalties and it is in everyone interest that the penalties are kept to a minimum.  At the moment 5% of farmers per annum are subject to an inspection.  If the penalty rate goes above a certain level, this will be doubled to 10% and so on. 

Judging by the large attendance at the Departments information meetings held last autumn their seems to be a huge thirst amongst farmers for knowledge regarding the Nitrates Directive and Cross-Compliance etc.  This was certainly not satisfied at any of the meeting that I attended, one of which could be accurately be described as a shambles. This services aims to provide this information and to assist farmers in minimising penalties

Negotiations regarding the Derogation for those between 170 and 250kgs of organic n per hectare are on-going.  However at this stage it seems clear that applying for the derogation is a complicated procedure and will involve a Nutrient Management plan for the entire holding(including soil sampling) and may result in the farmer inviting inspectors on to his farm.  Apparently there are 10,000-12,000 farmers currently over the 170 limit.  However many of these are in range of 170-180.  It would be my opinion that these farmers would be better advised to get their stocking rate below the 170.  However this is an economics decision which has to be made by each farmer.  The derogation will have to be applied for on an annual basis.

As an Agricultural Consultant operating in private practice it is heartening to see that the Department of Agriculture have officially acknowledged our existence and the role now played by the private sector in advising and assisting farmers.  Almost 60% of REPS plans are prepared by private farmers.  The new advisory service will operate on the same agency system as REPS has.  All REPS planning agencies who attend the relevant courses will be registered with the Department as eligible to provide the farmers advisory service and all REPS planners will be registered to provide the service working these agencies. This is the same agency system that has been used by the Single Payment unit to run the on-line Area Aid application system and which have served Irish Agricultural well since it started in 1994.  When this service is up and running it will be available to the  c70,000 farmers who are not in REPS. The 60,000 in REPS  are in the vast majority of cases availing of the annual farm visit from their consultant and this visit will now be extended to deal not just  with REPS compliance and record keeping but also to assist  the farmer with cross-compliance , , Good Agricultural practice and Nitrates compliance.

As always all queries and comments are welcome to  james@agriconsultants.com

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