The Minister for Agriculture must take the blame for the disappointing numbers around GLAS.
Since its inception, GLAS has been a scheme that has failed to replicate previous environmental schemes, both in terms of attractiveness and simplicity. It has also suffered from an application system that has been marred with technical and broadband issues.
And now it seems that Farm Relief Services ( FRS), which won the tender to carry out the work on behalf of Teagasc, cannot cope with what seem to be below expected levels of applications.
So, as we await final definite figures of how many farmers actually apply for the scheme, it would seem that the first tranche is going to be significantly undersubscribed.
That might be good news for those who are coming in as Tier 2 or Tier 3 applicants – for it looks unlikely that anyone who applies by the deadline of May 22, will not be turned away.
However, the issue for many farmers at this point, is getting their application in before May 22.
While Teagasc was quick to sign up farmers and pass them on to FRS to handle, it’s now obvious that FRS has not been able to deliver on its commitment and handle the level of interest. And the level of interest, it seems, has been relatively lukewarm.
Indeed, Teagasc has now been forced to take the embarrassing step of contacting approximately 2,000 farmers directly, on behalf of FRS, to advise them to look elsewhere to get their plans prepared.
But, the real kicker is that these farmers have signed up to Teagasc and FRS to process their GLAS application and now need to unregister Teagasc and FRS as their acting party, before another planner can submit a plan on their behalf.
So, while some farmers adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach to GLAS before committing, some who want to apply, will have no choice but to wait until the second tranche before they can apply.
Forcing such a tight deadline, to ensure that as many farmers get into GLAS this year and paid as soon as possible, has been a short-sighted measure that doesn’t serve the scheme or farmers’ best interests.
Minister Coveney may get the 30,000 applications he wants this year, but it will be through a technicality, with the level of applications to the first tranche looking set to be disappointing.
And if the numbers stack up, it seems likely that a significant percentage of farmers in the scheme could well be those who should not have qualified, if the scheme had been handled better.