The threat of land eligibility inspections is now a major stress factor for many farmers, according to the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA).

It says that farmers are fearful of seeing their incomes being drastically reduced or possibly wiped out on the back of an inspection.

Commenting on the issue, Chairman of the INHFA, Vincent Roddy said that farmers throughout the country are contacting the group about potential cuts to their Basic Payment following inspections.

In some cases, he said, the Department of Agriculture is looking to claim back as much as €30,000 from farmers.

For many of these farmers the department are looking at claiming back money for payments already made with one farmer that contacted us looking at a demand in excess of €30,000.

He added that the group has no issue with some of the ineligible features such as rock-outcrop but forage crops such as heather and seasonal grasses should remain eligible in all stages of the life cycle.

“Heather will mature over time even if it is grazed at sustainable levels and least we forget during the winters of 2009 and 2010 it was the higher heather that kept sheep and wildlife alive,” he said.

According to Roddy, the increase in the number of people contacting the organisation raises concerns regarding the department’s application of new guidelines agreed on land eligibility last April.

These guidelines which were based on EU CAP Regulations that defines agricultural activity is, we believe miss-interpreted, and continues to be applied incorrectly by our Department of Agriculture.

“The only place we will get clarity on this issue is in Brussels, which is something we hope to achieve at our meeting with commission officials next week,” he said.