The way in which the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine calculates nitrates figures under the Beef Exceptional Aid Measure (BEAM) scheme – versus how farmers compile those figures – may lead to “significant problems”, one farm organisation has warned.

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) has highlighted the effect that this could have on the scheme participants.

Speaking today (Friday, March 12), Edmund Graham, the association’s beef chairperson, explained: “[We] understand that while farmers have been led to believe that nitrates figures are calculated on a daily basis by the department, this is not actually the case.”

According to Graham, the department has been calculating the figures by selecting one date per calendar month, and extrapolating the figure given to farmers on the basis of that one day.

“This has never been communicated to farmers who might assume it’s a daily calculation. As such, the two sets of figures will likely never match,” he noted.

Graham argued: “We know that thousands of farmers are struggling to meet the 5% target and this uncertainty in how the figures are being calculated will only serve to exacerbate the myriad of difficulties there are with the scheme.”

The ICSA beef chairperson claimed it was “beyond comprehension” that the department “should tell farmers that the onus is on them to calculate their figures but not advise them on what method to use”.

The result is that with different methods being used, different results are being produced.

“The department will no doubt insist that its figures are the right ones, so where doe that leave farmers?” Graham asked.

He also suggested that even Teagasc farm advisors, as well as private advisors, are being “blindsided” by this issue.

“This further compounds the problem that the department can only provide figures six weeks in arrears. So a farmer doesn’t even have up-to-date figures when it comes to trying to meet the 5% target,” Graham remarked.

He concluded: “It again demonstrates that the department will be on very shaky ground if it tries to impose severe penalties on farmers who miss the 5% target, especially if the margin is tight.”