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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 May

Last week saw the return of the Danes to Ireland, this time their mission was to help rather than to conquer.  Ramboll Management, a Danish Consultancy firm, have been appointed by the EU to carry out a study in a number of EU states to assess the administrative costs on farmers as a result of, in particular the Single Payment Scheme and to look for ways in which this cost can be reduced.  The Agricultural Consultants Association together with the Farm Organisations and Departments of Agriculture officials all met together with the Danish company. Unusually for such a gathering all parties where of the one frame of mind, united in agreement that the administrative burden/cost on farmers was too high and ways have to be found to reduce it.  The EG Agriculture in Brussels have commissioned this survey with the aim of reducing the administrative burden on farmers by 25%.  Personally while I think its great that everyone is in favour of a reduction for this scheme, it is difficult to see where it is going to come from, short of abandoning the whole system and implementing a simple standard payment per hectare for each farm in any given year.  Even that simple system I am sure will have its own red tape. 

First of all a few definitions. Did you know that there is a difference between the administrative burden and administrative costs?  An administrative cost is a cost that regulation can entail on you and the administrative burden on the other hand is part of the administrative costs that a business sustains simply because it is a regulatory requirement.  An information obligation on the other hand is an obligation arising from a regulation to provide information/ data to the public sector for example keeping record sheets under the Nitrates Directive.  A Data requirement on the other hand is part of the information obligation and is an element of information must be provided for ewxamplle land parcel data on an Area Aid application. As you can see very quickly even a study aimed at reducing the administrative burden can be bogged down in jargon and red tape.  The study is taking a broad view of what involves the farmer i.e. not just the fees being paid to people like myself to fill up the forms and advise the farmer but also time taken for example travelling to visit his consultant, sourcing information, maps, applications etc, etc.  Very often we think the costs involve simply mean your annual consultancy fee but of course when you allow for time involved etc etc. the burden is a lot greater 

The inspection system also entails its own costs while you might say what’s the costs here and whilst the farmer doesn’t have to write a cheque there is a cost involved, for example  the mental strain of having a inspection and time spent with the inspector, time gathering information for the inspector etc all form part of the burden.  A number of good ideas and suggestions came up throughout the day. To a certain extent we have to accept that while there is a cheque in the post from Brussels, there will be a requirement on farmers to send paper work in the post to Brussels and no matter how simple the schemes are made there will always be complications.  My own favourite and I am obviously biased in this is the suggestion that  we accept that there will be a certain level of costs and burdens on farmers to provide information and that  payment for this should be provided to the farmer. In other words as I mentioned in a previous article that farmer be given payment over and above the Single Payment to allow him to pay (1) the Consultants to take care of his paper work, (2) to compensate him for his own time and labour in collecting the data and keeping information/data. 

Talking about the administrative burden, Tuesday saw the last of  Single Payment applications been lodged although late applications are still been accepted.  We used the online system extensively this year and found it to be a great success, obviously it is a pilot programme and there is room for improvement in the area of mapping etc. I presume these will be worked on for next year.  It certainly seems to be the way of the future.  Big problem encountered by a number of Consultants is the poor broadband coverage in rural Ireland, it certainly is becoming more and more of a burden to people like ourselves and as more Department of Agriculture services are becoming available online and it is one that we will have to address seriously in the next couple of months.  We have been operating a Satellite dish for the last three years and the service is just simply not up to the job.  We are exploring a number of avenues and I will keep you informed as I am sure this is an issue that affects many business in the country.  Indeed apparently it is a major problem for people living within 3 miles of the GPO never mind those of us on the southern reaches of the Bog of Allen.  

There seems to be a big increase in trading of entitlements this year. I presume brought about partly by the Use it or Lose it rule and also of course as time goes on people will be buying/inheriting land without entitlements and are in a position to buy entitlements.   It would appear from statements by EU Commissioner recently that setaside maybe abolished next year, it is something which has been a blight on the face of Irish Agriculture over the last number of years.  Like red tape no one has been in favour of it and it is hard to see what benefit it has been to either farmers or the environment.  Hopefully this is the last time anyone of us will see a setaside box on a Single Payment form.  Farmers seem to be coming more and more homogonous with the passing of the years.  When I started in this business first quite a percentage of our farmers had a mixed system i.e.  a bit of tillage, some turnips, maybe sheep, cattle etc.  Now very few farmers have 5 or 10 acres of tillage.  Everyone seems to be coming more and more specialised, for the more commercial farmers this make sense due to  certain economies of scale and for the rest of us I think it is a matter of time poverty.  It is easier to run one enterprise and do it right in the short few hours a week that we have available to us rather than a number of enterprises as occurred in our father and mothers time. However I am sure from an environmental point of view this is not a good thing and it is possibly something that could be addressed in the future and maybe there could be an incentive for farmers to grow crops such as swedes, turnips, barley etc  i.e. a return to the old rotational system of farming. 

As always any queries comments, suggestions are very welcome to james@agriconsultants.com

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