Saturday 4 April 2015

The Truth about GLAS participation and Land Eligibility

Inevitably, when something new is introduced people can be reluctant to embrace it, the sceptic in us all can be tempted to believe the worst. Humans nature as it is, some people for their own reasons will wish to knock any new system.  Rumours take on a life of their own, mistruths are spread about and very soon the ordinary man is bombarded with all sorts of tales about what the new system is for and what it means for him. This is as true about GLAS and the commonage plans as it is about any other new approach to regulating agriculture.

In the case of GLAS, the situation has not been helped by the ham fisted approach taken by the Dept. of Agriculture to informing farmers about the new scheme and its relationship with the land eligibility issue. In my experience from talking to farmers, advisors, journalists and Dept. of Agriculture officials, the biggest source of confusion is in respect of the connection between the land eligibility issue and GLAS participation. Many farmers genuinely fear the implications of the Department of Agricultures position that lands that are not being farmed are ineligible for payment. They fear that participating in GLAS increases the risk of inspections and hence the risk of unfarmed lands being detected. In the case of commonage, many inactive shareholders feel that if other farmers in their commonage participate in GLAS that this will draw attention on them and threaten their payments. For this reason they are often tempted to try and dissuade others from participating in the scheme.

While these concerns are understandable, they are based on the assumption that GLAS participation creates this risk, the truth is that not farming the commonage creates the risk. Staying out of GLAS or attempting to dissuade others from joining does not negate this, in fact sticking the head in the sand makes the farmers situation even more vulnerable. The reason for this is simple, the remote sensing technology now available to the Dept. has completely changed the rules of the game.

Sophisticated image analysis and risk profiling techniques now give the Department of Agriculture a capability that is way ahead of the old inspection systems (which relied solely on site visits). For the Dept. this is a mixed blessing, it gives them much greater capability but this in turn can lead to much greater demands from EU auditors regarding the inspection process. For the farmer, it means that keeping the head down offers no protection.

Using the high quality satellite imagery now available, the Dept. of Agriculture have or very soon will have the ability to detect vegetation types indicative of low farming activity. They can cross match this with known cattle and sheep numbers from the relevant herd numbers and rapidly build up a risk profile for individual farms and commonages. This can and likely will be used in the selection process for inspections and subsequently in the process of verifying eligibility for payment. This process will take place as part of the Department of Agriculture responsibility for administering the Basic Payment Scheme and is independent of GLAS.

The only way of addressing this issue is to tackle it head on, keeping your head down and hoping that it will go away will not achieve anything. Even if you are not in a position to participate in a commonage management plan, the fact that your neighbours are, can only improve the commonage and reduce the risk to your BPS and ANC payments. GLAS does not protect against land being disallowed but it does encourage and help finance an approach to commonage management that might. Not participating in GLAS offers nothing at all except a constant dread of inspection.

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