The popular Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) clinics operated by the Department of Agriculture have made a welcome return this year following two years disruption to normal service caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Even though face-to-face interaction was curtailed, it did not put a halt to the virtual clinic process, with the Department making contact each year with 700 to 800 applicants who utilised its in-person clinic service in previous years. Many of these virtual consultations took place out of hours to tie in with the availability of family members or those more proficient in using the online system.

This has led to some of these applicants now submitting their BPS application on their own, while others have linked in with an adviser. As such, the Department was unsure as to what demand would be present for face-to-face consultations in 2022, but there was a keen appetite to renew BPS clinics and once the green light was granted, clinics were organised in 20 locations.

Strong response

The BPS clinic which took place on Tuesday 3 May in the Shearwater Hotel, Ballinasloe, Co Galway, was the 14th of the season and I caught up with Alan O’Brien, Carmel Tobin and Edel Carty from the BPS unit to get an overview of attendance levels and the type of queries being raised.

Numbers attending clinics held to-date range anywhere from 20 to upwards of 50 applicants. A significant number of applications are straightforward no change applications, while issues raised range from land eligibility queries to entitlements and unfortunately there are also cases where an applicant has passed away and family members are coming to terms with the application process.

Sylvia Bannon and Ciara Gorman from the BPS unit checking a query on a BPS application at the Department's BPS clinic held in Ballinasloe, Co Galway.

There are also queries being raised as to changes coming down the line in 2023, with some of these related to proposed changes to land eligibility rules and stocking rate coefficients. The Department is keen to highlight that there have been no significant changes to the 2022 scheme and advises applicants to remain focused on ensuring their application is submitted before the deadline of Monday 16 May 2022.

A flavour of the topics being raised is summarised below.

Land eligibility and scrub

Questions arise on an ongoing basis around land eligibility and the management of landscape features, especially around the management of scrub, which may be deemed ineligible for payment. The Department’s online mapping system reviews maps at least every three years and where ineligible features are identified, they are marked as such and a deduction is made to the maximum eligible area (MEA).

Where a farmer has removed scrub or the eligible area for claiming has increased, then they can opt to claim a greater area. If this exceeds the MEA, it will raise a warning of an overclaim, but an applicant can still progress and enter a note explaining why the area is being increased.

For example ‘scrub in X05 removed’. This will trigger a map review by the Department, or in some cases the Department may request geotagged photos to show that scrub has been removed.

Where a farmer has removed scrub or the eligible area for claiming has increased, then they can opt to claim a greater area

Ireland has proposed in its CAP Strategic Plan 2023-2027 to allow landscape features such as scrub to occupy up to 30% of the reference parcel without a deduction to the eligible area being required, provided that they do not impact the agricultural activity.

Some people have voiced frustration at scrub being deemed ineligible on 31 December 2022 and eligible on 1 January 2023, but this is the regulation in place and applicants must remain focused on the area of land deemed eligible for the 2022 BPS application. It is useful to point out that while the Department will change the MEA as deemed necessary, it will never increase the claimed area and any such increases must be carried out by the applicant or agent acting on their behalf.

ANC and stocking rates

A letter circulated by the Department in recent weeks highlighting a new EU ruling requiring stocking rates in 2022 to be based on the MEA rather than the claimed area has led to further queries, as has talk of new stocking rate values.

The Department explains that the change to basing stocking rates for the Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) on the MEA in 2022, as opposed to the claimed area, will not lead to any changes for the majority of applicants. They advise all applicants to review maps and areas submitted for the different schemes even where a no change BPS application is being submitted.

With regard to changes to unit values of different livestock, there is no change in 2022. The minimum stocking requirement is 0.15 livestock units per forage hectare for ANC in 2022. Any changes proposed at present relate to the ANC in 2023, eco-scheme measures and determining active farmer status.

New mapping system

The mapping system used for farmers in counties Donegal, Kilkenny, Limerick and Mayo will be upgraded to the Department’s new land parcel identification system (LPIS) in 2022.

The new system will be rolled out for all land parcels in these four counties whether you are a herdowner based there or not. For example, if a farmer is living in Galway and has land declared in Mayo and Galway, then only the land parcels in Mayo will be subject to the change.

Where a farmer living in Mayo has land declared in both Mayo and Galway, then the land parcels in Galway will also be subject to the new LPIS.

The new LPIS was first introduced in Louth in 2019 before being rolled out to Cavan, Leitrim, Longford, Meath and Monaghan in 2020 and Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Laois, Offaly, Roscommon, Sligo, Westmeath and Wicklow in 2021. The remaining seven counties will switch over to the new system in 2023 and 2024.

Land additions/ deductions

Each year, BPS applications are delayed until close to the deadline due to decisions lingering surrounding the addition or deduction of lands. It is important to get applications submitted with scope to make amendments without penalties until 31 May. Lands can be added subject to a rising scale of penalties up to and including 10 June.

Lands can be withdrawn or the claimed area of a parcel reduced or changed from eligible to ineligible at any time after the 31 May 2022 deadline for amendments without penalty, provided payment has not been received or you have not been notified by the Department of any issue with the land in question.

Entitlements usage

Applicants are advised to review their entitlement status when submitting an application. If entitlements have not been activated in 2021 and are at risk of reverting to the national reserve if not used in 2022, then this will be stated on the application.

Remember, one eligible hectare is required to activate one entitlement. Where entitlements are at risk of being lost, then you should consider leasing/selling.

Remaining BPS clinics

There are six remaining BPS clinics taking place between Thursday 5 May and Thursday 12 May, with details as follows;

  • 5 May 2022, Tralee: Brandon Hotel, Princess Street, Tralee, Kerry 9.30am - 3.00pm.
  • 6 May 2022, Mullingar: The Mullingar Park Hotel, Dublin Rd, Mullingar, Westmeath 9.30am - 3.00pm.
  • 9 May 2022, Drumshanbo: DAFM Office, Drumshanbo, Leitrim 9.30am - 4.30pm.
  • 10 May 2022, Cavan: DAFM Office, Farnham Street, Cavan 9.30am - 4.30pm
  • 11 May 2022, Clifden: Clifden Station House Hotel, Connemara, Co Galway 9.30am - 3.00pm.
  • 12 May 2022, Oranmore: Oranmore Lodge Hotel, Carrowmoneash, Oranmore, Galway 9.30am - 3.00pm.
  • Extended opening hours

    Farmers can also contact the Direct Payments Helpdesk on 057-867 4422 for assistance.

    The lines will be open for extended hours in the run up to the application date as follows:

  • Between 9.15am and 9pm from Monday 9 May to Friday 13 May.
  • Between 9.30am and 5pm on Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 May.
  • Between 9.15am and 12 midnight on Monday 16 May.