€633,000 spent analysing satellite images over grants
The Department of Agriculture has spent more than €633,000 this year analysing images of rocks, rushes and scrubland taken by satellite to see if land not actively farmed is being included in claims for EU farm payment schemes by farmers in disadvantaged areas.
The process and its cost have been criticised by a TD who said farmers are under enough pressure already.
Michael Healy-Rae said farmers in the southwest – which he said has been the focus of the satellite scrutiny this year – cannot get out to cut rushes in the first place because of bad weather.
About 5,100 satellite images of disadvantaged areas were examined by a specialist service provider to determine whether some of the areas claimed for were not being farmed. This emerged in a written reply from Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney to a parliamentary question from Mr Healy-Rae.
Mr Coveney said land eligibility checks must be carried out on at least 5 per cent of applicants for payments under the EU schemes.
“These checks are carried out to verify that the actual area claimed in the application form corresponds to the area farmed by the farmer and to ensure that any ineligible land or features are not included for aid purposes,” the Minister said.
The satellite imagery was supplied to the department by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre. It was examined by a specialist service provider under contract to the department. The service provider was selected under a public recruitment process, and the cost of the analysis was €633,450, the Minister said.
Mr Coveney said farm inspections were moving progressively “in the direction of increased use of remote sensing”. This was because of cost as well as EU legislation.
This year some 75 per cent of the 7,500 eligibility inspections scheduled here were done by remote sensing.
“However, remote sensing inspections may give rise to follow-up ground inspections where it has not been possible to determine definitively the eligibility of certain land features, eg scrub, and also where penalties arise,” Mr Coveney added.
Separately the department has explained that land completely covered by rocks, furze and rushes is not eligible unless it is cleared. In the case of minor discrepancies such as small areas of rushes and rocks the farmer may be written to.
However, where more than 20 per cent of the claimed farm land was not being farmed or “ineligible” the farmer would lose the single-farm payment for one year.
Mr Healy-Rae said he was shocked by the amount of money spent on what he said was the persecution of farmers. He called for leniency in the context of the bad weather.
“Over the past 12 months there genuinely was no chance to go out and cut or spray the rushes,” he said.