Farmers have had their fill of form filling and bureaucracy

The Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) may have tested the scheme fatigue limits of farmers.

There were 37,000 applications to join its predecessor, the 2014 genomics scheme.

But the number getting involved in the new six-year scheme may be as much as 25% lower.

The BDGP offers a much-needed income injection on suckler farms, of €95 each for the first 10 cows and €80 for each eligible cow thereafter.

But it requires a six-year commitment from participants, who have to undertake six key actions, in order to breed cows that are more fertile and more docile, with more milk.

Aims include more calves per cow per year, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions per livestock unit.

Farmers who do well in the scheme will gain about €30/cow/year, on top of the scheme payment.

But these are ambitious targets, and there might be a risk of clawback of payments from farmers who cannot overcome the inevitable problems which will crop up for everyone in six years of suckler farming.

So a reduced participation compared to the 2014 scheme is understandable.

But the storm of farmer complaints which greeted the scheme may point to a tipping point in the relationship between farmers and the Department of Agriculture and the EU. It is quite likely that scheme fatigue has set in, and that farmers have had enough of form filling and bureaucracy, for scheme after scheme.

Even non-farmers may sympathise — after introduction of the non-principal private residence tax, local property tax, and water charges in recent years gave them a taste of increasing bureaucracy.

Multiply that by ten for an idea of what farmers have been through, and playing for much higher stakes.

It started in 2013, with a review of land area eligibility in the €1.6bn per year payment schemes which bankroll Irish farming. It resulted in some 33,000 land parcels becoming the subject of over-claim notifications, deemed ineligible for payment by the Department of Agriculture.

Some farmers accepted the notification of loss of EU payments — but a massive 10,000 appeals were lodged by farmers.

The eligibility row is just one of the ongoing huge bureaucracy headaches for farmers.

In 2014, 7,345 landowners were penalised for Single Farm Payment overclaims, and 5,027 were penalised for disadvantaged area overclaims.

Even as farmers deal with these huge problems in their EU schemes, they have been preparing for the 2015 replacement of the Single Farm Payment and disadvantaged area schemes by the Basic Payment Scheme, Greening and Areas of Natural Constraint.

That is even more difficult for some, who have the demands of the National Reserve and Young Farmers Scheme to cope with.

For others, 2013 eligibility problems were hanging over them, or even earlier legacy issues, from other schemes such as the agri-environment schemes.

The plight was revealed recently of a Co Mayo farmer who was in the REPS 4 agri-environment scheme from 2009 to 2014.

He was notified by the Department of Agriculture in 2013 that he had a total debt on his REPS4 contract of €36,341.78 arising from overclaims of his share in commonage lands. He claimed for 27 shares, each of one 298th in the commonage, but the ownership document showed only a 9/298ths share.

When the complexites of commonages are combined with the complexites of EU schemes, problems are inevitable.

Hence the apparent reluctance of commonage farmers to get involved in the GLAS agri-environment scheme.

Add in the host of statutory management requirements farmers must comply with to continue receiving payments, the arrival of the compulsory BVD eradication for the country’s two million calves per year, and it would be no surprise that farmers may be shying away from new schemes, no matter who well recommended they come.

The BDGP may be a high-profile victim of that scheme fatigue.profile victim.

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