The ‘vanishing fields’ problem which affected well over one hundred farms in East Londonderry has been “satisfactorily rectified.”
That is the verdict of Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill, who had been asked about “the number of errors within the new mapping system” used by farmers in Northern Ireland to apply for agricultural subsidies from the EU.
The ‘Single Farm Payments’ - a subsidy paid to European Union farmers to reduce food prices - were worth an estimated £245 million to farmers in Northern Ireland last year.
This year, the Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill believes that due to changes in the exchange rate, the subsidies could be worth an additional £16 million to the local farming industry.
However, a new system introduced for this year’s payments in Northern Ireland, known as the ‘Land Parcel Identification System’, led to errors meaning entire fields were missing from the maps. The maps are vital to ensuring farmers entitled to the subsidies get the full amount.
Minister Michelle O’Neill revealed earlier this year that there were “124 farm businesses in the East Derry constituency (deﬁned as BT49, BT51,BT52, BT55, BT56) that were aﬀected by ﬁelds missing from their new map.”
Now, however, the Minister believes that the “errors have been satisfactorily rectified”, after being asked if that was the case by DUP MLA Paul Girvan.
She warned, however, that some errors may remain and that it was the responsibility of the individual farmers affected to “bring those inaccuracies or other changes to the Department’s attention.
The Minister said: “I am now confident that I have in place a mapping system that, first and foremost, is compliant with the European Commission’s regulatory requirements on providing a maximum eligible area for each field parcel. More detailed work is now under way on some key areas requiring attention, such as the mapping of common land parcels and the updating of older orthophotography. Early difficulties with missing fields have been resolved, although it is always the case that there can be individual instances where inaccuracies have to be resolved. It remains the claimant’s responsibility to bring those inaccuracies or other changes to the Department’s attention. A significant update to maps will occur at the beginning of 2014, but it will always be important for farmers to remain vigilant, to check their maps and to ensure that they are updated. I have always said that this is a two-way partnership between the Department and the farmer.”
She continued: “I intend to make sure that we pay out the maximum amount of money and pay the maximum number of farmers in December. That is the target for this year. A lot of work is going on in the Department, particularly on the mapping exercise and making sure that it is fit for purpose, appropriate and acceptable to Europe. We have made a lot of progress on that. My priority for this year is to get the payments out as early as possible.”