793 unannounced farm inspections have taken place so far this year, according to statistics released this week by the Department of Agriculture.

The figures, which were requested in a parliamentary question by Deputy Dara Calleary, show this year’s figure so far represents 10.35 per cent of the overall total of 7,665 inspections undertaken since 2011. The figure for this year so far shows a reduction in the number of inspections on previous years. The number of inspections that took place in 2011 was 2,269 and was 1,788 in 2012.

Minister for Agriculture Food Simon Coveney said: “In the context of delivering the direct payment schemes my department is required to carry out on-the-spot inspections on a number of farms covering such issues as eligibility under the scheme, compliance with EU legislation in the areas of the environment, food safety, animal health and welfare and plant health and ensuring that the farm is maintained in good agricultural and environmental condition.

“These inspections are mandatory and there are certain minimum numbers and types of inspections that must take place annually. In addition, my department undertakes Nitrates inspections under the good agricultural practice (GAP) regulations on behalf of the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government.”

The minister outlined that: “Rules regarding the advance notification of inspections are clearly laid down in the governing EU regulations and must be adhered to by officials in my department. In general, all inspections should be unannounced.”

“However, the regulations allow my department to give up to 14 day’s notice for land eligibility and cross-compliance inspections involving SMRs (statutory management requirements) other than those related to animal identification and registration, food, feed, and animal welfare. For checks involving cattle and sheep identification and registration the maximum advance notice is 48 hours. For SMRs dealing with feed, food and animal welfare no advance notice may be given and these inspections must take place on an un-announced basis.”

Minister Coveney also noted: “Where it is considered that the purpose of any type of inspection may be jeopardised by giving notice, the inspection will take place on an un-announced basis. In determining the type of notice to be given for an inspection a number of factors are considered so as to ensure that the inspection process is not jeopardised. These notification procedures are in accordance with those outlined in my Department’s Farmers’ Charter and Action Plan.”

Speaking to AgriLand on the area of farm inspections Pat McCormack, deputy president of the ICMSA said: “Within Nitrates the main areas of concern are management and collection of farmyard manure. Inspections are becoming more stringent – as seen by the increasing number of penalties imposed in the past three years – and it is clear that most penalties are due to minor technical breaches in regulations, which should be dealt with by a yellow card system that takes account of the practical realities of farming rather than imposing unnecessary financial penalties on farmers.”

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