Northumberland farmers meet to discuss rise in Rural Payments Agency inspection failures

Event at Kirkley Hall will include contributions from the RPA's Margaret Casey and Malcolm Angus from Trading Standards

Northumberland farmer Hans Pörksen
Northumberland farmer Hans Pörksen

The NFU has organised a meeting for Northumberland farmers concerned about the number of Rural Payments Agency inspection failures in the area.

The RPA, an executive agency sponsored by Defra, can visit farms unannounced to check on paperwork, animal health records, movement records and more.

Minor failures can result in a 3% reduction in the farmer’s Single Farm Payment, with more serious breaches attracting a 5% reduction.

In the worst cases, the farmer can be stripped of the payment entirely.

According to incoming NFU county chairman Hans Pörksen, who will chair the forthcoming meeting at Kirkley Hall, near Ponteland, there has been a significant surge in inspection failures in Northumberland during recent months, having a serious impact on livelihoods.

“Us livestock farmers can not produce animals without this payment,” he said. “We rely on it for our income so this is quite a serious thing.

“I know of one person who was recently fined £2,000 and another £5,000. If you run a large mixed farm, then that 5% deduction impacts on the whole operation.

“If you only have a few animals, then you might decide to not to farm livestock anymore as the fine can be bigger than the income generated from them.”

In some cases, Mr Pörksen added, the breaches were “ridiculous”.

One farmer, he said, had been fined after only including the holding number of his farm - rather than the individual sheep number - on documentation when disposing of a carcass.

In the case of sheep tags, meanwhile, failing to include dates on documentation can lead to 5% reduction in the Single Farm Payment.

“A total of 158 farmers nationally fell foul of that last year,” Mr Pörksen said.

“Farmers do want to comply, but they sometimes don’t realise just how important these things can be.”

The meeting, which will be held on March 11 at 2pm, will include contributions from the RPA’s Margaret Casey as well as Malcolm Angus from Northumberland County Council’s Trading Standards department.

Trading Standards also carry out regular farm inspections and have a presence at auction marts, ensuring the animals being sold are healthy and fit.

“Farmers, their staff, their agents and anyone responsible for filling in these forms are invited to attend,” Mr Pörksen added.

“It doesn’t matter if they are NFU members or not. We want as many people as possible to attend and get briefed on this.”

The RPA pays out over £2bn each year to the farming and food sector.

A Rural Payments Agency spokesman said: "The inspection programmes are a crucial part of preventing disease outbreaks and maintaining high standards of traceability and food production.

"We work hard to make farmers aware of the most common cross compliance errors every year to help them to avoid future penalties and save money.

"However, poor record keeping continues to be the major factor in cross compliance breaches nationally.

"The Guide to Cross Compliance in England 2015 can be found on GOV.UK and highlights areas which can attract high failure rates."

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