Unannounced farm inspections by the Department of Agriculture have been a bone of contention with farmers for many years and the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney outlined in the Dail this week why they are necessary.
He said, in the context of delivering the Direct Payment Schemes and Rural Development measures the Department of Agriculture is required to carry out on-the-spot inspections on a number of farms covering such issues as eligibility under the Scheme and compliance with Cross Compliance requirements, as set down in EU legislation, and the standards for Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC).
These inspections are mandatory and there are certain minimum numbers and types of inspections that must take place annually, he said.
According to the Minister, rules regarding the advance notification of inspections are clearly laid down in the governing EU regulations and must be adhered to by officials in the Department of Agriculture.
He said the regulations allow the Department of Agriculture to give notice for land eligibility and cross-compliance inspections involving SMRs other than those related to animal identification and registration, food, feed, and animal welfare.
However, this notice must be strictly limited to the minimum time period necessary and shall not exceed 14 days, he said.
- 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 unannounced basis.
- Where it is considered that the purpose or effectiveness of any type of inspection may be jeopardised by giving notice, the inspection will take place on an unannounced basis.
In determining the type of notice to be given for an inspection the Minister said, a number of factors are considered so as to ensure that the inspection process is not jeopardised.
He also said a comprehensive appeal system is in place for applicants to avail of if they consider that the inspection has not been conducted in accordance with legislative requirements or if they are unhappy with the inspection findings.
This appeal system incorporates an initial review by an officer more senior than the inspecting officer, with the option to appeal the outcome of any such review to the independent Agriculture Appeals Office, he said.
In the event that an applicant is not satisfied with the outcome of this review Minister Coveney said, he/she has the right to pursue the matter further with the Office of the Ombudsman.
According to the Minister, the Department of Agriculture has established a Farm Advisory System under the Direct Payment Schemes to give advice to applicants and it is recommended any applicant with any inspection concerns whatsoever avail of this service, which involves Teagasc and private agricultural consultants, to allay any such concerns.