Better engagement with farm advisers on scheme deadlines is needed, Sinn Féin spokesperson on agriculture Claire Kerrane TD has said.

She has called on Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue to better engage with farm advisers when setting scheme deadlines, following movement to address issues around deadlines for the knowledge transfer (KT) scheme.

The Department has eased some scheme requirements to support advisers in meeting the deadline of 31 March.

However, she added that agricultural advisers have faced mounting workloads and a series of challenging deadlines in recent months, with the requirements around KT deadlines having added another to that list.

'Significant pressure'

"Farm advisers are being placed under significant pressure to meet deadlines for a range of schemes. This is an issue they have been flagging for some months now and it clearly came to a head with the KT scheme deadline.

“The easing of KT scheme requirements, which will now allow farm advisers to hold four meetings a day instead of two, is welcome and will hopefully assist them with meeting the March 31 deadline," Deputy Kerrane said.

She added that it is evident that the Minister and his Department must better engage with farm advisers and representative organisations on the setting of scheme deadlines to avoid this issue arising again.

Advisers have been facing a bottleneck of deadlines

“I have raised a number of unfair deadlines for advisers with the Minister in recent months, including the deadline for scorecards to be submitted under ACRES and the TAMS tranche two deadline which the Minister had suddenly changed.

"Advisers have essentially been facing a bottleneck of deadlines, often with each scheme as important as the next in terms of farmers receiving their payments. In both cases, the Minister eventually acknowledged the issue and extended deadlines.

“There is also added pressure in that farmers rely on these payments and should rightly be paid for the actions they carry out under various schemes.

"Creating a difficult situation for advisers in meeting those deadlines is absolutely not supportive of ensuring that those payments are made to farmers on time," she said.

Advisers, she said, carry out crucial work in supporting farmers and it is important that they are also supported to be able to carry out and complete their work too.