Appeals submitted by farmers to the Office of Agricultural Appeals were up by 33% last year – with approximately half of these disallowed, according to the latest report published by the office this week.

The 2020 Annual Report of the Agricultural Appeals office noted that some 760 appeals were received last year – an increase of 33% when compared with 570 appeals received in 2019.

Number of agricultural appeals

The number of appeals received in 2020 is higher than the 10-year annual average of 701 appeals, as shown in the following table, provided by the office.

Source: Office of Agricultural Appeals

The number of appeals received per month may be linked to a number of variables including the date of receipt of scheme applications, the date of the department inspection/findings and the date of the department’s final decision.

The highest number of appeals was received in November 2020 – some 102 – almost double the 57 received in the same month the previous year.

The majority of those appeals concerned the Green, Low-Carbon, Agri Environment Scheme (GLAS) and Beef Finisher Payment (BFP) Schemes.

The month with the lowest number was September, which received 45 appeals last year, just four more than the same month the previous year. All months saw an increase in appeals compared to 2019.

Outcomes of appeals

The outcome of all appeals closed in 2020 – including both appeals received in 2020 and those received in previous years – saw 51% (amounting to some 183 cases) disallowed.

Meanwhile, 39% – 139 cases – were allowed, partially allowed or revised by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Finally 10% (36 cases) were withdrawn or invalid.

Closed cases

In 2020, the office closed 358 agriculture appeal cases. This compares with 491 cases that were closed in 2019.

Year in which agri appeals were receivedNo of agri appeals closed in 2020
Source: Office of Agricultural Appeals

According to the Office of Agricultural Appeals, the reasons for carryover of appeals may include: the timing of receipt of the appeal, such as if it was received towards the previous year end; timing of receipt of department statement and file; availability of parties to attend oral hearings; the complexity of the appeal; the need to obtain legal advice; and time taken by appellants and/or the department to revert with additional information requested.

The reduction in the number of appeals closed in 2020 compared to 2019 was mainly due to the challenges faced by the office as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the office says, adding:

“In line with government guidance, the office had to suspend the holding of oral hearings in March 2020 and resumed the holding of hearings with the easing of restrictions in September 2020.

“In line with government guidance we had to again suspend the holding of oral hearings in late October until December 2020. The office engaged with appellants throughout 2020 with regard to this issue.”

Noting that options to have the appeal decided without an oral hearing or to have the hearing held remotely were offered to appellants, the office said:

“The majority of appellants opted to have an oral hearing at a later stage. Non-oral hearing cases were prioritised during the restricted periods in 2020.”