Teething problems for the GLAS application process have become apparent in recent days. Of particular concern is the reduced period for the completion of the Commonage Management Plans. The current position is that these have to be in place by July 3rd. What happens if this does not happen is not yet clear but I presume that the individual applications from the farmers affected would fail. While these people will be accommodated in the second tranche of applications, their payments will inevitably be delayed.
On private land many commentators have identified the issues regarding claiming payments for linear features like stonewalls on divided land parcels. This is completely illogical but an equally serious issue is the suggestion that not to allow payment under the Low Input Permanent Pasture option on land that contains any heather. This will have serious consequences for farmers with privately owned upland grassland plots. Interestingly this ban on heather within LIPP parcels is not in either the scheme specifications or in the terms and conditions documents, rather it is in the answers to commonly asked questions published on the Dept. of Agriculture's website. perhaps there is still potential for movement on this. Farmers and Planners alike should keep the pressure up on the Dept to correct this blatantly unfair anomaly.
On a practical level, the operation of the on line mapping system used for preparing GLAS applications is quite slow, particularly for linear features such as stonewalls. While our broadband is quite good, I fear that advisors in areas where the broadband access is poor will be in for an infuriating procedure. Watch out for your advisor going bald or grey over the next few months.
For farmers intending to apply for the scheme, get in touch with an advisor as soon as you can. Do not expect that you will be able to get an application prepared in the last weeks of April, it will not happen. The commonage planning process will not begin until mid May but farmers should begin planning for it now. In particular, if it is at all feasible discuss the issue of the choice of commonage planner with other shareholders. The ideal solution here is that you get an advisor of your choice. While the Dept. of Agriculture will appoint some one if agreement among shareholders is not possible, this is very much a sub optimal outcome. Decide on someone and approach them now to check their availability, you may well find that as time passes the ability of advisors to commit to a commonage plan may diminish.
In spite of the difficulties, remember that GLAS does present significant opportunities not only in terms of payments but also as a mechanism to address management issues and to help safeguard payments from the Basic Payment Scheme and the Areas facing Natural Constraints Scheme. Most of all keep the faith.