BPS workshops in pipeline; as report says scheme ‘favours larger farms’

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is expected to soon launch a series of workshops to engage with farmers on moving to online Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) applications for 2018.

It is understood that the workshops will be particularly focused on a relatively small cohort – around 13% – of farmers that are still using the paper method of applying for payments.

A total of 87% of farmers decided to submit their application to the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) online in 2017, making it a total of 113,600 online applications.

Under EU regulations, member states are required to move to 100% online applications by 2018.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has confirmed that the closing date for BPS applications in 2018 is Tuesday, May 15.

BPS limitations

Meanwhile, a new report by the European Court of Auditors has found that the BPS system – introduced in 2015 in the framework of the 2013 reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – has “inherent limitations”.

The auditors of the report concluded that the scheme is operationally on track; but, that its impact on simplification, targeting and the convergence of aid is limited.

The BPS aims to provide basic income support to farmers and contribute to viable food production in the EU without distorting production decisions.

With an annual expenditure of around €18 billion granted to some four million farmers, it is the EU’s biggest income support scheme for farmers.

Although simplification was a guiding principle of the 2013 reform; the complex rules on BPS and eligible land contained numerous options and exceptions, say the auditors.

The rules chosen by member states sometimes added complexity, increased the burden on national administrations, and allowed some farmers to realise windfall profits.

The reform extended the categories of land on which support is payable because member states had various approaches in defining key terms such as ‘agricultural land’ and “agricultural activity’ to target support better towards ‘active’ farmers.

However, the report says it also created “significant implementation problems“.

“Member states’ choices had a significant impact on the degree of redistribution of support, and farmers could in some cases maintain particularly high support levels resulting from past levels of subsidy.

As a scheme essentially related to areas rather than income, BPS support tends to favour larger farms.

Joao Figueiredo, the member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report, said: “It does not take account of market conditions, use of agricultural land or the individual circumstances of the holding, and is not based on an analysis of the overall income situation of farmers.”

The report highlights that although control systems in member states – visited as part of the research – largely reduced the risk of incorrect calculation; in some cases, entitlement values were inaccurate – calculated only provisionally or based on estimates.

“The [European] Commission provided member states with extensive guidance; but, it could not always ensure that the rules were applied consistently – it also lacked important monitoring information,” the report states.

Recommendations

For the current BPS scheme (applicable until 2020), the auditors make a number of recommendations to the commission concerning: the allocation and calculation of BPS entitlements; addressing the national paying agencies’ key controls; the commission’s systems for disseminating information among member states; and the role of national certification bodies.

For the period after 2020, they recommend that the commission should analyse the factors impacting income for all groups of farmers, their income support needs and the value of the public goods that farmers provide.

“From the outset, it should link the proposed measures to appropriate operational objectives and baselines against which performance could be compared,” the report concludes.

The BPS is applied in: Belgium; Denmark; Germany; Ireland; Greece; Spain; France; Croatia; Italy; Luxemburg; Malta; the Netherlands; Austria; Portugal; Slovenia; Finland; Sweden; and the United Kingdom.

The remaining member states – which joined the EU in 2004 or 2007 – apply a similar but transitory scheme called the Single Area Payment Scheme.