Northern Ireland’s Single Application process has opened for 2015, Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has announced.

The Single Application online service is available, with paper packs beginning to arrive with farmers before the end of March 2015, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) said.

“This year’s application process heralds significant changes under EU reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), with the introduction of various new schemes, such as the Basic Payment Scheme and Greening Payment, the Young Farmers’ Payment and the Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC ) Scheme (subject to European Commission approval),” DARD said.

Minister O’Neill has urged farmers to submit their applications via DARD’s online service to minimise the potential for any errors when claiming under the new area-based schemes.

“This year sees the introduction of various new schemes following EU reform of the CAP and I am conscious that farmers have had to digest a lot of information and make decisions in preparation for the 2015 Single Application process.

“Farmers and their representatives can submit claims to a number of area-based schemes on the Single Application via DARD’s online service.

“I welcome the input and support of farmers’ groups in developing the 2015 online service, undergoing further changes from that used in 2014. This has resulted in a more user friendly system which I’m confident will enable applications to be completed quickly and accurately for the benefit of both farmers and the Department,” the Minster said.

Minister O’Neill said that with the introduction of the new schemes there are different rules for payment, and farmers can’t afford to make mistakes in the application process. Even simple errors can result in financial penalties and the online application system is designed in such a way to help farmers avoid common errors, she said.

“The online system also features a new tool to help farmers find out if they have a greening requirement to meet in order to receive a Greening Payment. It is essential that farmers understand if they a have a greening requirement and if they use the paper application form, it can provide no assurance that they are meeting their greening obligations,” she said.

Minister O’Neill said that if more farmers apply using the online application service, it would help DARD speed up the payment process. She said that 2015 will be a challenging year and with paper application forms not being available until late March she is urging farmers to apply early via the online system given its many advantages over paper applications.

“I would ask those who have not yet registered for my Department’s online services please get in touch now, so that you can avail of the Single Application online service when applying this year,” she said.