Plans for paper calf registrations to be scrapped in a month's time have been ditched by Northern Ireland's Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

The department had originally planned for herd birth and movement registrations to go 'paperless' by May; however, union representatives at the time warned that this was “too ambitious”.

A DAERA spokesperson confirmed that, having given further consideration to this issue, the department will continue to accept paper notifications - whilst at the same time continuing to promote the benefits of online and telephone notifications.

However, DAERA will not be issuing paper versions of the Single Application this year. The deadline for receipt of all Single Applications and supporting evidence is May 15, 2018.

Almost 10,000 farmers switched to online application in 2017. It meant 99.2% of applications were submitted online last year.

'Even May 2019 was too ambitious'

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) described the move as a case of "common sense prevailing".

UFU president Barclay Bell said: “The UFU met with DAERA at the beginning of February to discuss their proposals for the phased withdrawal of paper registrations and movement documents for livestock.

With almost 30% of cattle registrations still completed on paper, the DAERA target to move all of those paper-based farmers to an alternative service by May 2018 or even May 2019 was a far too ambitious target.

"At this meeting, and in a subsequent letter to DAERA, the UFU highlighted that with the widely-acknowledged difficulties in rural areas to access broadband and with an ageing population of farmers in Northern Ireland - many of whom who are not computer literate - paper is still the main option.

"Farmers must be confident when registering calves given the serious risks that surround inaccurate traceability information with livestock.”

Under pressure

The UFU said it was "aware of the ongoing pressures on public sector finances" which have resulted in a considerable reduction in DAERA’s staff numbers over the past few years.

There are signs that these pressures will continue for years to come.

Bell added: “While paper notifications will continue to be accepted, the UFU will continue to support the DAERA campaign for those farmers who wish to move from paper notifications to the online and telephone options.”