Farmers told to untangle EU red tape or lose out

Farmers face challenges to keep stringent records, the NFU said.
Farmers face challenges to keep stringent records, the NFU said.
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Complex and onerous layers of bureaucracy mean it is understandable that some farmers fail to qualify for important European payments, the National Farmers’ Union said today.

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is responsible for distributing EU subsidy money to English farmers subject to them meeting strict criteria but the Agency said that poor record keeping means farmers’ Single Payment Scheme (SPS) payments were reduced by a total of £2.33 million last year.

Paul Caldwell, the RPA’s operations director, said poor record keeping was the biggest factor in cross compliance breaches ahead of the switch from SPS to a new Basic Payment Scheme under the revised Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in 2015.

Mr Caldwell said: “RPA is currently working very hard to prepare for the new CAP but we are also committed to delivering our usual high quality routine services.

“Release of these figures is just one of the ways that we help farmers and the agricultural industry as part of our ongoing commitment to support rural economies.

“The aim is to make farmers aware of the most common errors to help them to avoid future penalties and keep more of their vital SPS funds.

“The data clearly shows that, similar to 2012, failure to keep adequate records was a major cause of breaches across a number of cross compliance requirements.”

But while the statistics were a useful reminder to farmers to keep their records as up to date as possible, farmers do face challenges in trying to do so, the NFU’s SPS adviser Anna Logan said.

“Of course farmers are well aware of the need to focus on record keeping, however it can be a struggle sometimes to be 100 per cent compliant.

“Some record requirements, for example where farms are in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones, are both complex and onerous to complete, others are more straightforward but can nevertheless be a challenge for very small businesses. Livestock movement paperwork for example needs constant attention as there are time limits on when information should be logged.

“Given these challenges it is perhaps understandable that farmers can fall foul of the rules sometimes, but we do everything possible to emphasise the possible impact of any breaches identified during an inspection.”

Alison Robinson, partner in the landed estates and rural business group of Harrogate chartered accountants Saffery Champness, warned that while busy farmers can find it difficult to deal with paperwork, there was a real cost to neglecting it.

“The real concern here is that by missing a payment because of compliance breaches there will be a knock-on effect on profitability which could ultimately threaten the future of the business or certain elements of it.”

The RPA’s figures show there were 2,972 cross compliance failures last year. Because of poor performance on soil protection and nitrate vulnerable zones in 2012, the Agency was tasked under EU rules with carrying out extra inspections in those areas last year. These additional inspections generated 711 of the total breaches recorded.

As in 2012, cattle keepers attracted the highest number breaches (810) for failing to report deaths and movements; incorrect reporting of movements and animals being found without passports.

Failure to keep accurate and up to date records, leaving temporary field heaps in position for more than 12 months or too close to water courses meant Nitrate Vulnerable Zone breaches were the second most common failing at 562, with 328 of them as a result of the extra inspections.

Soil Protection Review issues produced 535 failures and issues with animal medicine and mortality records saw a rise from 95 breaches in 2012 to 148 last year.