‘I sold breeding stock to pay Christmas bills and we haven’t bought heating oil this year’

One farmer, who asked to remain unidentified, has had to sell his breeding stock to pay bills in the run up to Christmas as he awaits delayed payments from the Department of Agriculture.

The sheep farmer from the South took over the running of the family farm a number of years ago and has said the entitlements on the land were not worth much when he started farming.

Since then, he and his wife, along with their three young children, have lived on the farm and have worked hard to improve it.

“We’re happy with the farm but, this year, inspections have changed things and now we face into Christmas waiting on most of our entitlements.”

Peter (not his real name), said he got two days’ notice of the first inspection in April. “We had young lambs, but we had no time to prepare and it was a case of getting them all in for the inspection. But we passed, so that was fine.

“As far as we knew, all was fine, and we continued as planned – budgeting to pay most of our bills before Christmas as the Single Farm Payment and other payments would be paid later in the year.

“However, the last week of September the Disadvantaged Area Payment was due and it didn’t appear in our account.

“We waited until mid October and rang the Department and were told that we were now due a satellite inspection.”

He said he was told then that this should not affect the Single Farm Payment and that should be paid, but it wasn’t.

“We rang again about the Single Farm Payment and were told that it would be all sorted in two weeks. But nothing happened. When we rang again we were told the issue was with the mapping section and that they won’t deal with the general public.”

By this time, the farmer had to tell the Department that the bank manager was on his back, but he still heard nothing definite about the payments.

Late in November, when he rang again, he was told that the mapping inspection had thrown up issues and that there would now be a land inspection before Christmas .

“In early December two inspectors landed out onto the farm without any notice. Only for my wife spotting them walking around with maps, and ringing me to come home, they would have carried out the inspection without any input from me.”

After going through some issues they raised, and sorting them, Peter says the inspectors left happy having told him that he would be paid within a week.

“Three weeks later I was paid the Single Farm Payment, but it’s a smallish amount – less than €5,000 – and there was a couple of hundred deducted from it, despite the inspectors saying the deductions would be less than €100.

“I’m still waiting for AEOS, Disadvantaged Area payments and a Sheep Grassland Payment. It’s not a major amount, less than €7,000, but all my bills for the year need to be paid, as do Christmas expenses and there is no sign of the payments coming through. All this over less than an acre of scrubland that I have cleared.”

“Ringing the Department is pointless, they have no access to information, the mapping section won’t deal with the public and the threat of inspections hangs over you all the time.”

The stress of the year, Peter says, has caused health issues to reoccur and the household and farm have suffered in the run up to Christmas time.

“We have had to postpone work on the farm, fencing, we haven’t bought oil this year to heat the house. I sold breeding stock to pay a few bills.”

In the run up to Christmas he says the lack of payment has put him and his family under severe pressure and the bills keep mounting.

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