The struggle to secure payments under the Green, Low-Carbon, Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS) will deter farmers from joining future schemes, according to Eddie Davitt – a farmer from Co. Sligo.
A participant in the scheme, Davitt – who is the rural development chairman in the Sligo branch of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) – outlined that there is a constant struggle to secure payments under the scheme.
In December of last year, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine began issuing 85% advance payments under the scheme.
Many of these payments were delayed due to a variety of issues, with the department citing problems around the submission of Nutrient Management Plans (NMPs), Commonage Management Plans (CMPs) and other required forms as the main reasons for payments being held up to farmers.
Davitt, who has a flock of around 330 sheep and a share in a commonage of 110ha, explained that he only got his 85% advance payment under GLAS five weeks ago “after a struggle“.
The farmer is calling on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, to issue the balancing payments to farmers as a matter of urgency, following the tough winter the farming community has had to endure since last September.
Speaking to AgriLand, he said: “The minister is talking about paying it in mid-May, but that’s three months too late; every farmer now has massive bills.
My 15% balancing payment adds up to a couple of hundred euro. That would buy 2-2.5t of fertiliser or pay for some of the meal that has already been fed.
“15% might not seem like a lot. But a couple of hundred euro is a lot of money if you don’t have it.”
In recent days, the department issued an update on the scheme stating that over 99% of all eligible GLAS applicants are fully up to date with their payments.
The statement added that the department is “working to prioritise the remaining payments and payment runs continue each week. €36.8 million has issued to date this year with additional payments of over €9 million issued in respect of GLAS training.
Approximately 1,500 applicants remain ineligible to receive their 2017 advance payment in respect of GLAS scheme year 2017.
The department outlined the reasons for these participants continued ineligibility on its website.
Participants with outstanding actions have been reminded by the department to complete them as soon as possible if they wish to receive their payment.
‘It’s turning into a farce’
Davitt has been a participant of GLAS for three years now, but he believes the struggle to secure payments – despite people doing their best to comply with regulations – will deter a lot of farmers from participating in similar schemes in the future.
It’s turning into a farce; everyone has lost faith and belief in it.
Davitt argued that the minister and his department failed farmers by not having the IT systems in place in time for planners to submit CMP details – which resulted in unnecessary delays and confusion.
The farmer explained that only for the fact that he had “a fairly big area of commonage”, it wouldn’t have been worth his while participating in the scheme in the first place.
He claimed that a lot of hill farmers “didn’t bother applying” to GLAS initially, and that some of those who did join now regret making that decision.
“Farmers will be horrid reluctant to ever join a scheme like GLAS again. There are a lot of the hill farmers now that will never join a scheme again because they’re so long waiting for their bit of money,” he said.
Between all of the costs incurred as a result of participating in GLAS, Davitt claimed that he was €50 in debt following his first year of participation.
These costs included hiring a planner to draw up the NMP and CMP, as well as getting them to fill in other required forms – some of which he or his wife would have traditionally filled in themselves. Costs were all incurred for carrying out soil samples.
He argued that the level of administration in these schemes, as well as the people who are required to fill out the various forms, means that there isn’t enough of money getting back to the farmer who has to carry out the required tasks.
‘Farmers are becoming disillusioned’
Davitt is worried that farmers are becoming disillusioned with the extent of the challenges facing them, including: prolonged winters; high feed bills; poor commodity prices; and cash flow difficulties.
Continuing, he said: “I started feeding a few days before Christmas Day; I wouldn’t normally start feeding meal to my ewes until February 1. I started feeding meal in December this time, and I’ll tell you I have some amount thrown out since then.
I would have over 25t of meal fed out at €300/t to about 330 sheep. That’s about 10t or 12t over what I would normally have to feed.
The farmer was highly critical of how the Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, reacted to the fodder crisis. He felt that the minister ignored the problem for too long and believed that Minister Creed should have opted for a meal voucher scheme.
Davitt claimed that the Fodder Transport Support Measure and the Fodder Import Support Measure were of little value to farmers in the north-west.
Dealing with the difficulties
Meanwhile, the sheep farmer outlined that the past few months have been very tough on ewes and lambs.
“There are a lot of farmers who had serious, serious losses this year; it was an awful winter.
“To add insult to injury, the minister announced that all sheep will need to be electronically tagged later this year – meaning more costs for the farmer,” he said.
As well as this, financial difficulties must be taking a strain on farmers.
Farmers are private enough; they don’t want to tell everyone about their business. They won’t admit that they are stuck for money; but they have to be.
This is why Davitt is calling on Minister Creed to issue the GLAS balancing payments as a matter of urgency.