Completing the online Single Application Form has been problematic for many NI farmers and form fillers this year.

Issues include long delays in uploading information, followed by the web page eventually freezing.

“It has been the worst year ever for IT issues. We have complained to the department about it numerous times,” one local agricultural consultant told the Irish Farmers Journal.

They said the advice from department staff is to use a different web browser when opening DAERA online services. Examples of web browsers include Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge and Firefox.

Many farmers who usually complete their own form, but have limited computer skills, have chosen to use a form filler when they run into difficulties.

“I have had a lot more new customers coming to me this year,” another NI-based consultant said.

“The main issue is when you are applying for EFS (Environmental Farming Scheme), but there have been problems with some BPS (Basic Payment Scheme) applications too,” they added.

While Single Application Forms for most NI farmers became available on 1 March, applications for EFS participants did not open until late April. The narrow time frame has just added to the difficulties already facing form fillers.

I only bring a farmer in if they are a new client or they have a complicated application

The delays in uploading Singe Application Forms appear to be worse with older computers and in areas where internet speeds are slow.

The deadline for avoiding a late claim penalty is 17 May. With just over 10 days to go, farmers who have not yet completed their applications are being advised to do so as soon as possible.

Most form fillers that the Irish Farmers Journal spoke to this week indicated that they have claims for over three quarters of their clients submitted so far.

“I have 80% of the applications completed that I expect to do this year,” said Ciaran Kerr from Lurgan-based consultancy firm Farm With Kerr Ltd.

“With COVID restrictions here again this year, I am trying to complete as many forms remotely as possible. I only bring a farmer in if they are a new client or they have a complicated application,” he said.