There were mixed fortunes for farmers in the GLAS scheme who made appeals to the Agricultural Appeals Office in 2019.
Some 156 farmers made appeals under the scheme last year. GLAS appeals accounted for almost 30% of appeals.
In one appeal, the farmer was informed by the Department that their plan was being rejected as the farmer had not met the requirement to attend a GLAS training course by 31 December 2018.
The farmer could not find a GLAS training course to attend and their adviser did not provide training. The farmer was not informed of this at time of application by the Department and contended that the Department had a responsibility to ensure advisers ran training courses and if not to make arrangements to facilitate farmers on a course.
The appeals officer on the case obtained statistics on the number of GLAS training courses that ran in the relevant time frame and that were not fully subscribed, particularly in the appellant’s own county.
The Department stated that it would have directed appellant to these courses if contacted but they were not contacted.
It was submitted by the Department that both the farmer and their adviser were reminded multiple times in advance of the deadline of the need to train and the consequences for not doing so.
The Department was not bound by legislation or in the terms and conditions to be responsible for notifying farmers of courses or advertising courses. In these circumstances the appeals officer found that it was not impossible for the appellant to attend the training within the required time frame as there were courses available.
It was accepted by the appeals officer that it was more difficult for the appellant to attend the required training when the approved adviser was not providing such training.
However, the appeals officer found that the onus to attend the training within the required time frame was a core requirement of GLAS and was found to ultimately reside with the appellant.
The farmer’s appeal was disallowed.
In a separate appeal case, another farmer who joined GLAS in 2015 received an inspection in 2018.
The Department notified the farmer of a non-compliance with the terms and conditions of the scheme with regard to the low-input permanent pasture (LIPP) action.
The reason was in relation to the presence of a ring feeder in the LIPP parcel and cattle being outwintered there and that therefore a reduction in payment was to be applied.
The farmer appellant appealed on the grounds that he accepted cattle were being outwintered and he was using a ring feeder, but that it was all within a very small area, highlighting the significant difference in the area of the LIPP parcel and the actual area being taken up by the outwintering, so a reduced penalty was sought.
He also claimed the number of animals outwintered was small, that he only let out cows as they calved, that he always uses this area for outwintering as he found it suitable as it was a rocky area with little soil, and that by restricting the animals to this confined area he was protecting the rest of his land, some of which was included in the penalty.
It was also outlined that the appellant was taking steps to improve his wintering facilities.
The appeals officer, from reviewing the evidence, found that poaching was found in the area being used to outwinter animals and having a ring feeder present.
The officer found that this poaching was a breach of cross compliance under Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAEC) and that a penalty had been applied to the farmer’s area-based schemes under cross compliance for that reason.
The officer found the scheme’s terms and conditions states that “any breach of the baseline cross-compliance or greening elements on which a GLAS commitment is based will result in no payment for that commitment for a full calendar year”.
The appeals officer acknowledged the farmer was taking steps to improve his wintering facilities and that the extent of the financial penalty applied was significant and challenging for the farmer.
However, the appeals officer found that the scheme’s penalty schedule set out that a baseline cross compliance breach associated with a LIPP parcel resulted in a 100% penalty for the LIPP action for one year and that a GLAS circular in 2017 clarified that any supplementary feeding of forage to cattle is not allowed in a LIPP parcel.
The appeals officer also found the farmer's claim that he was not aware that the confined area where the outwintering took place was in his LIPP area did not absolve the farmer from the requirement and commitments given under the scheme.
The appeal was disallowed.
Another farmer appeal in 2019 related to the wild bird cover action in GLAS.
An application was made by the farmer to join GLAS 2 in December 2015. The Department accepted the application with a contract commencement date of 1 of January 2016.
In February 2019, an inspection was carried out on the farm and non-compliance was found in relation to the wild bird cover action – it was found that the action was not completed in 2018.
This resulted in no payment for this action for the year in question and as it was the tier two action the entire application was rejected. The appeal was on the grounds that all works required were completed and in order.
The farmer was the primary carer for a relative who died early in 2019 after a long illness and it was submitted that this was the reason the wild bird cover was not sown in 2018.
An oral hearing was held. The Department’s representatives gave details of the GLAS rules and outlined the application details, contract details and advised that wild bird cover was not sown in 2018.
As it was the appellant’s only tier two action the entire GLAS application was rejected. It was stated by the Department that force majeure could not apply.
The farmer gave details of their relative’s illness and the circumstances of the non-compliance. The farmer’s representative referred to the strict criteria that were used in making this decision and to the proportionality of the penalty.
Further medical documentation was provided to the appeals officer after the oral hearing. The appeals officer partially overturned the Department’s decision on the grounds of force majeure and taking account of the rules for withdrawing payments.
In their decision, the appeals officer had regard to the terms and conditions of the scheme, the relevant EU legislation and the particular circumstances of this case.
The appeal was partially allowed.
A farmer applied for GLAS in 2015 and the application fulfilled the eligibility criteria and his application was successful.
The farmer was admitted to GLAS 2 with a contract commencement date of 1 January 2016. A number of options on different parcels were selected:
With these actions, the application was ranked as a possible tier one application. However, during the Department’s prepayment validation checks it was identified that six parcels for various different actions were no longer being claimed by the appellant on their annual application for the Basic Payment Scheme and other area-based schemes including GLAS.
Section 8.5 of the scheme terms and conditions stated that "the claimed area of parcels declared on the GLAS screen in the annual Basic Payment Scheme application is deemed to be the area claimed for payment." The farmer was advised about this by the Department.
A letter was issued to the farmer to advise about the consequences and to explain about the penalty. In this case, the penalty was rejection from the scheme and clawback of all monies paid under GLAS to date. The farmer sought a review by the Department including grounds that referred to medical circumstances.
The Department wrote to the appellant explaining that parcels had been transferred to another herdowner and had been claimed by that herdowner in 2018. The parcel containing the farmer’s only priority action was included in the transfer and the transfer had also not been carried out within the requirements of the scheme terms and conditions.
It advised the appellant that they had no option but to uphold their decision. An appeal was received in the Agriculture Appeals Office.
In the appeal the appellant set out the extenuating circumstances which gave rise to the transfer of the parcels. An oral hearing took place and the appellant described more fully at the oral hearing the nature of the exceptional circumstances and how they had affected him. He wished to exit from the GLAS contract without any clawback and wished to claim force majeure.
He undertook to submit further evidence relating to the circumstances and supplied that as agreed. On receipt of the additional evidence, the Department reviewed the case again in the light of the additional information and medical evidence and decided, under the provisions of force majeure, to accept the appellant’s request for withdrawal from the GLAS contract and not to recoup the clawback.
The original Department decision was revised by the Department in favour of the farmer.