My Department has two commitments under the Programme for Partnership Government in relation to farm inspections and penalties.
The first relates to the simplification measures for the inspection regime and the implementation of the proposed 'yellow card system'.
As part of the annual inspection programme required under the EU regulations governing the Direct Payments Schemes and various Rural Development measures, my Department implements the option to complete land eligibility inspections by means of Remote Sensing using up-to-date satellite imagery, with some 85% of the requirement being completed by this means in 2018. My Department, in consultation with farm organisations, avails of the option of 'stacking' of inspections, whereby cases that are selected for inspection under the Basic Payment Scheme can also count towards the inspection requirements under Greening, ANC, etc. This practice endeavours to minimise the number of 'gates crossed' as much as possible by also 'stacking' Animal Identification and Registration (IDR) inspections on land eligibility inspections and combining Animal IDR inspections with Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) and/or Sheep Welfare Scheme (SWS) inspections, where feasible.
In order to meet the regulatory requirements for the 2018 inspections programme across the various schemes and inspection types, over 26,000 inspections were required. When the options of Remote Sensing inspections and 'stacking' of inspections were applied, this resulted in the actual number of holdings subject to a 'ground' inspection being circa. 8,500.
In relation to the 'Yellow Card' system for penalties, this relates to land eligibility checks, covering both administrative checks and inspections, and applies to those cases where a determined over-declaration in area is greater than 3% or 2 hectares but does not exceed 10%. For such cases, the penalty will be further reduced by 50%, subject to specific additional criteria. This provision applies to the Basic Payment Scheme, the Young Farmers Scheme and the Areas of Natural Constraints Scheme only. My Department implemented this provision in 2016 and, in the period 2016 to 2018, some 2,000 applicants under the Basic Payment Scheme benefitted from this provision.
My Department also applies the provision under the regulations governing the Cross Compliance regime where a breach is deemed to be minor in nature and remedial action is taken within a specified period, no monetary sanction will apply.
The second commitment relates to the holding of information meetings with farmers. In 2018 and 2019 to date, my Department held a series (15) of information evenings, in collaboration with Teagasc, at various locations throughout the country. These meetings covered an overview of the inspection process and common reasons for penalties. Farmers were also afforded the opportunity to discuss their own individual issues with Department and Teagasc personnel on a one-to-one basis. Inspection staff also attended a number of farmer meetings in collaboration with some of the farming organisation. Furthermore, information on the reasons for penalties was presented to farmers at the 2018 National Ploughing Championship. It is intended to hold a further series of info meetings in late 2019/early 2020.