My Department has received over 130,000 applications this year from farmers under the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and Areas of Natural Constraints (ANC), Scheme which are funded or partially funded by the EU and are worth in excess of €1.4 billion annually.
There are no delays in the issuing of payments to applicants with clear and validated applications under either scheme. Ireland remains to the forefront of Member States in relation to the early payment of monies under the BPS and ANC schemes.
Under EU Regulations, all applications must be subjected to robust administrative checks, including Ground or Remote Sensing (Satellite) inspections where applicable, prior to payment. The main element of the administrative check is an area assessment. This is achieved by using the detailed database of individual land parcels - the Land Parcel Identification System (LPIS). The LPIS database currently holds details relating to 1 million individual land parcels and must be kept fully updated in order to underpin payments.
The Department’s systems in this critical area must meet demanding EU and national audit requirements. Only valid applications under the BPS and ANC that fully comply with the requirements of the EU Legislation are paid. Consequently, all applications under the schemes are subject to administrative checks.
Cases that do not pass the validation process cannot be paid pending a resolution of the error concerned. These errors include over-claims, dual claims, commonage errors and issues relating to stocking density requirements. My Department enters into correspondence, mainly through the issuing of query letters to farmers, in order to resolve these error cases.
The EU Regulations prescribe the minimum number of inspections that must take place annually. These inspections can be undertaken by means of field visits on the ground or by means of Remote Sensing using up-to-date satellite imagery. The Regulations further prescribe that, for inspection cases, the process must be fully completed before any payments can issue. Where an application is selected for inspection under any of the area-based schemes, the outcome of that inspection applies to all schemes for which the applicant has applied.
Approximately 8,000 applications are subject to an inspection in 2019 under the various area-based schemes. As of 25 November, my Department had received inspection results for over 93% of these inspections, of which 92% had been advanced to payment stage. The balance of these cases falls into a number of categories, namely, where applicants have been notified of the inspection outcome where an area over-declaration has been identified and a response is awaited; and where applicants have chosen to submit comments on notified inspection outcomes. These cases are currently being examined with a view to final processing. The remaining, outstanding inspection results are currently being finalised and will then be advanced through the final stages of processing promptly.
In relation to the BPS, I am pleased to confirm that advance payment issued as scheduled on 16 October. This is the earliest date that payments can commence under the governing EU Regulations, and the increased advance rate of 70% was paid again this year.
A total advance payment worth some €747 million issued to 114,500 farmers on the first BPS pay run, representing an increase of 1,500 farmers paid at the same stage in 2018. In all, some 94% of eligible applicants for the 2019 BPS received their advance payment at the earliest date possible.
Advance payments under the ANC Scheme also commenced on schedule this year. In the week beginning 16th September, payments in excess of €168 million issued to almost 79,000 farmers, which is an additional 2,000 farmers compared to the same date last year.
Further to changes in EU Regulations from 2019, payments under the ANC scheme must be delivered in two instalments, with 85% advance payments issuing initially and a 15% balancing payment issuing from early December.
I am conscious of the many challenges currently faced by farmers and, with this in mind, I secured additional funding of €23 million in Budget 2019 to bring the overall annual budget for the ANC scheme up to €250 million. This is the second year in a row that the allocation for the ANC Scheme has been substantially increased, and the increased funding has again been targeted at the areas of highest constraint.
In both the BPS and ANC schemes, payments have continued to issue as additional cases have become clear for payment. Under the BPS, 119,135 applicants have now been paid €786 million and for ANC almost 92,000 applicants have been paid in excess of €195 million. Where a farmer has not yet responded to a query letter from my Department, I would encourage them to reply at an early date in order to facilitate payment. It should also be noted that, in relation to the ANC scheme, many farmers will not yet have met their stocking density requirements and will thus not become eligible for payment until they do so later in the year.
The balancing payments for both the ANC and BPS schemes are due to commence in early December, and preparations in this regard are well underway.