Northern Ireland farmers considering signing up to the latest round of the Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS) are urged to be mindful of what they are agreeing to.

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) announced tranche four of the Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS) wider level would open for applications on Monday (August 17).

‘Don’t over-commit’

However, Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) deputy president David Brown said it was important not to over-commit.

“With the reopening of the EFS wider level, the majority of the usual options are available for farmers to select from and apply for,” he said.

“This includes hedge planting and laying, and arable options.

Fencing off watercourses is not included unless this is done with buffer strips – we are disappointed that it has been left out of this tranche of the EFS.

Brown said UFU members should be aware that the EFS wider level is not a ‘whole farm’ scheme but offers a range of options which most farmers should be able to avail of.

“For those farmers who apply, it is important that they give themselves plenty of time to carefully review all the options that would suit their farm business,” he said.

I would urge them to check and make sure that they can meet all the necessary conditions and be aware of the workload which varies for each option. Our members don’t want to over-commit themselves in terms of the amount of work that needs to be done within the timescales of the scheme.

“The EFS scheme is very good from an environmental point of view but it becomes very complex when DAERA review the paperwork.

“It is very important that farmers know exactly what it is they are applying for and understand each of the requirements that are set out by DAERA under their chosen option.

“I encourage members to take the time to read the options very carefully and to be aware of the differences between options that may seem similar, such as hedge planting and hedge laying, and to be very specific and accurate when completing the application. This is paramount to avoid penalties.

“We urge farmers to keep records on an annual and an individual field basis. Farmers must complete online training prior to beginning EFS wider related work.

“For members that claimed tranche three, I urge them to check the measurements as the work is completed and if different from this year’s Single Application Form claim, they need to submit an EFS SAF3, to correct this. Doing so will prevent penalties when the 2020 work is later inspected and found to be wrong.”