A reduction in on-the-spot farm inspections and a revamp of the penalty system applied to EU payments are among reform measures unveiled yesterday by the Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan.
“I believe that an appropriate balance can be struck between the need to protect public money, while, at the same time, applying a more proportionate system of penalties,” said Mr Hogan.
He also confirmed most of the changes would apply from next year. The new measures will reduce the level of on-the-spot checks, the commissioner explained.
Mr Hogan said the measures would allow Agriculture departments across the EU to target their inspections where they will have the greatest effect.
He pointed out that there was a planned reduction in the minimum rate of on-the-spot inspections from 5pc to 1pc in certain circumstances.
The measure is designed to streamline the process and avoid multiple inspections which have created what has been described as a ‘climate of fear’ on some farms.
Under the new simplified CAP rules, an inspector will be allowed take a range of samples during the course of a single check for a particular scheme to avoid repeated returns to the same farm.
Mr Hogan said this was in response to concerns raised by farmers who feel they are subject to a number of repeat inspections for various schemes during a year where one inspection would “serve perfectly well”.
The changes will also allow for proportionality in penalties to ensure smaller farmers are not unfairly penalised.
“I do not see simplification as a one off, big bang measure, but rather an ongoing process,” said Mr Hogan.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said he had been seeking a “more proportional and risk-based approach to controls”, describing it as a “pro-farmer practical measure”.
ICMSA president John Comer said an end to the “long running farce of multiple inspections” would be a huge step forward in easing stress.
Mr Comer said the changes to the control systems under CAP would need to be examined but measures to ease the huge number of “unjustified” inspections were long awaited.
“The present inspection regime is a source of great worry and anxiety for the farmers,” he said.
ICSA general secretary Eddie Punch said a reduction in the penalty scheme and flexibility on “subjective” views on marginal land was needed as many had been hard hit in Land Parcel Identification System (LPIS) reviews.
“People absolutely dread inspections,” said Mr Punch. “The experience isn’t as bad as the fear sometimes.”