The Department of Agriculture apologised to a farmer for a delay in amending its computer records after it imposed the wrong penalty on the farmer.

The farmer complained to the Department that it had imposed incorrect penalties on his Organic Farming Scheme payment following a farm inspection.

He received a 20% penalty for cattle housed with no additional bedding and a 50% penalty for sheep being fed non-organic nuts.

He then sought a review of the penalties, following which the Department found that the 50% penalty for the non-organic nuts had been incorrectly applied.

The penalty was therefore reduced to 20%. However, the farmer said that he received no apology from the Department for the mistake, it had taken over six months to correct the error and that he had been charged interest on money he had never owed, according to the case published in the Ombudsman’s casebook.

Upon examination, the office of the Ombudsman found that there was no dispute that the terms and conditions of the scheme had been breached.

Force majeure

“However, the farmer was claiming that force majeure applied. He said that his supplier did not have any organic feed at the time and he had found it difficult to obtain straw and so used peat as an alternative.

“The Department acknowledged that it had erred in imposing the wrong penalty for the feeding violation. Due to problems arising with the IT system, there was a delay in amending the penalty on the Department’s computer system.

“This had resulted in higher repayments being made by the farmer for a period of time. However, there was no evidence that the Department had recouped more money than was due or that excessive interest was charged,” it found.

The Department apologised to the farmer. However, the Ombudsman could not uphold the claim of force majeure in respect of the penalties being imposed.