Sinn Féin spokesperson for Agriculture, Claire Kerrane TD, has called on Minister McConalogue to address ongoing concerns around the ACRES scoring process and the double standards he has created for those in Co-operation zones.
Just last week, Teachta Kerrane raised possible delays to ACRES scorecards being submitted, which could in turn result in unfair penalties for Farmers participating in the scheme with the Minister.
Since then, further issues have been highlighted around how the Department is providing different scoring time-frames for different groups in ACRES Co-operation. Co-operation teams for commonages have been given extra time – an additional month (September) to score lands and will have two years to submit scorecards, while Farmers with their own hired Farm Advisors also in ACRES Co-operation will be required to meet the August deadline with no additional time allowed.
There is added geographical consideration in that Co-operation Project Teams will generally be scoring in commonage areas, which are often relatively accessible and easy to move around as well as allowing them to score a number of Farmers together. Other Advisors will be scoring more lowland areas in the same scheme (ACRES Co-operation) which are typically less accessible and require more travel to and from land parcels.
Speaking today, Teachta Kerrane said:
“There has been double standards created by the Minister in ACRES which are entirely unacceptable and have to be addressed urgently.
“Co-operation teams for commonages have more time to carry out the same scoring as those Advisors hired directly by Farmers, some of which will have worked for Farmers over many years. This means the Minister has acknowledged that there will be time pressures to get land scored and has allowed for that for some, but not for others.
“The workload for scoring lands will be sizeable for Advisors and there should be a level playing field for all Advisors doing the job. Instead, we have a situation where some will have four months this year and four months next year to score lands and others will have three months and a strict deadline of August, despite the fact that they were already delayed by nine days when the required app wasn’t ready on June 1st.
“There are also financial double standards within ACRES Co-operation – those in commonage areas will receive a payment regardless of whether their land has been scored or not whereas those in lowlands will get no payment at all if their land is not scored. This, again may lead to financial consequences for farmers through no fault of their own.
“ACRES has the buy-in from Farmers and we all want it to be a success, but reports of the differences in the treatment of some Farmers over others is not the way to start a new scheme.
“The Department are going to have to provide flexibility where issues are flagged with them, like this, in order to ensure that ACRES works for Farmers.
“I am calling on Minister McConalogue to address these double standard by allowing the same time-frame for scoring to be submitted and to ensure payments are treated the same.
“This is about a level playing field for all farmers involved in ACRES.”