Only two out of five farmers are successful in appealing decisions by the Department of Agriculture over their eligibility for a range of EU payments. Only 39% of farmers had a positive outcome to their cases last year, with the appeal either being upheld, partially allowed, or the Department of Agriculture revising its decision, according to the Agriculture Appeals Office’s (AAO) latest annual report.
It also shows that 45% of all appeals were rejected in 2018, while 16% were either withdrawn, invalid, or out of time.
The number of appeals to the AAO, based in Portlaoise, Co Laois, fell to their lowest level in a decade last year. 556 appeals were made, a 13% decrease on 2017 and far below the 1,000 reached between 2010 and 2013.
The highest number of cases, 25% of all appeals, related to decisions on Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environment (GLAS) payments. The GLAS scheme provides payments to farmers for following agricultural production methods that are compatible with the protection of the environment and climate-change mitigation.
The AAO said it had noted issues with farmers not fulfilling their priority action under the GLAS scheme, such as the protection of watercourses from cattle.
“It is essential that farmers realise that the priority action under GLAS must be fulfilled,” it said.
The AAO was established in 2002 to provide an independent, accessible, and fair appeals service for farmers who are dissatisfied with decisions of the Department of Agriculture over payments for various EU schemes. AAO officials closed 520 appeals last year, a decrease of 26% on 2017.
The director of agriculture appeals, Angela Robinson, said the reduction was mostly attributable to the additional work it was assigned as a result of the decision to set up the Forestry Appeals Committee, last year, which oversees appeals against decisions by the Department of Agriculture on applications for forestry licences.
It received 231 appeals up to December 2018. Ms Robinson said the effect of the additional work on the AAO’s capacity to deal efficiently with cases was under review.
“I anticipate that resource needs identified will be responded to positively,” she said.
The highest number of appeals last year came from farmers in Galway (63), followed by Kerry (51), Donegal (48), and Cork (46).
Last November, the Court of Appeal overturned a 2016 ruling by the High Court that the withholding of €147,000 from a Co Tipperary farmer in 2010 was “procedurally flawed”. The High Court had ruled in favour of Michael O’Connor, from Nenagh, in a case against the Minister for Agriculture and the AAO. This had potentially opened the way for other farmers to sue over decisions to withhold payments for more than 40 different farm support schemes.
In its annual report, the AAO has recommended to the Department of Agriculture that it should cite the relevant legislation in decisions regarding penalties.
“It is not always abundantly clear from current department documents how the specific provisions of the governing legislation are applied to each decision,” the AAO said.
It advised farmers to be aware that changing their trading status, such as sole trader or company, can have serious consequences, such as rejection from a scheme and recoupment of funds already paid.