The Department of Agriculture’s recent webinars have had one familiar refrain. Whether it’s CAP or nitrates, every query and opinion is met with a comment like “send that to us in a submission” or “make sure to put that in writing”.

On the face of it, it’s a fair enough request. But there is an uneasy feeling among farmers that their voices are being diluted.

Direct democracy is where everybody gets to decide everything.

Bin charges, tax rates, divorce laws – all governed by popular decree. It doesn’t really exist anywhere, although Switzerland has a shake of it. And there’s a good reason.

Life is not a reality television series. It’s less glossy and much tougher. We vote for people to govern, and they govern until we vote them out.

Farmers elect leaders to represent them. Their voices are farmers’ voices – if not, they get turfed out just like governments.

Saying all voices are equal dilutes those leaders’ input. It’s like throwing a bottle of whiskey into a swimming pool.

Interest penalties

We’ve also heard that farmers who are being hit with BEAM penalties will now face interest penalties unless the money is returned instantly. Over 3,000 farmers have been contacted to inform them they must return the monies paid out for non-compliance with one or other of the scheme’s conditions.

They now further know that if the money is not repaid within 30 days, they will be hit with interest, at a cost of 3% per annum. And this has got right up farmers’ noses.

Why? Well, the BEAM scheme conditions have never been popular, particularly the stocking reduction requirement some have fallen foul of. But mainly it’s because farmers are left wondering how this one-way street for the application of interest can exist.

For every year, thousands of farmers have their payments held up. Sometimes it is entirely or partly the farmer’s fault. An error in the application or a flag raised by an inspection will halt payment.

But other times it’s not the farmer’s fault at all. It might be because an inspection is planned.

It may be that the farmer is fighting the Department’s maps on entirely legitimate grounds. It might be the knock-on effect of a lease of related entitlements gone wrong. A farmer might be the legitimate party in a double claim.

If payment is held up for this or other reasons, it can be delayed for months. The pockets of most farmers would be shallower than the Department’s but farmers don’t get to charge the Department interest.

Will the farmers waiting years for felling licences be able to levy the Department for interest on their income forgone?