The Department of Agriculture has spent over €633,000 this year analysing satellite images of rocks, rushes, and scrubland to see if land not being actively farmed is included in claims for farm payment schemes in disadvantaged areas.
The cost and the process have been criticised by a TD who says farmers are under enough pressure.
Michael Healy-Rae said farmers in the South- West, which he believes has been the focus of satellite scrutiny this year, cannot get out to cut rushes because of the weather.
About 5,100 satellite images of disadvantaged areas were examined by a specialist service provider to determine if some of the areas claimed were in fact not being farmed, a written reply from Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney to Mr Healy-Rae has confirmed.
Mr Coveney said land eligibility checks must be carried out on at least 5% of applicants for EU single farm payments in disadvantaged areas.
“These checks are carried out to verify that the actual area claimed in the application form corresponds to the area farmed by the farmer and to ensure that any ineligible land or features are not included for aid purposes,” said the minister.
The satellite imagery was supplied by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and examined by a specialist service provider, selected by public recruitment process. Analysis cost €633,450.
Mr Coveney said farm inspections were moving “in the direction of increased use of ‘remote sensing’,” because of cost, as well as EU legislation.
This year, 75% of 7,500 eligibility inspections were done by remote sensing.
Mr Healy-Rae yesterday said he was shocked by the amount spent on the “persecution” of farmers and he called for leniency in the context of the terrible weather.
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