Thousands of farmers in Northern Ireland are getting help submitting their Single Application Form (SAF) online, as officials move away from paper applications for farm grants.

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) said it had dealt with over 5,000 calls to its SAF advisory line since the online window for applications opened on March 1.

A further 500 farmers got one-to-one help at DAERA Direct offices around Northern Ireland to get to grips with the online system, with another 300 coming to workshops.

“When we opened the online Single Application Service in March we introduced a number of support measures to assist those farmers who would be switching from paper format to online application for the first time in 2017.

From the feedback received; it is positive to note that farmers have welcomed our support services, with approximately 1,000 benefiting from the range of options available.

Last year, the department received 62% of applications online. The deadline for SAF applications is due to close on May 15.

Farmers can get help with their online applications by arranging a face-to-face appointment with an advisor from the SAF Advisory Service on: 0300-2007848.

Officials are also running SAF workshops via the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) college network, in Greenmount (Antrim), Loughry (Cookstown) and Enniskillen, with an additional workshop set to run at Southern Regional College (SRC) in Newry, Co. Down.

DAERA is asking farmers to get their applications in sooner rather than later so that if they need help, they can get it.

“Make use of the support options available before places become limited as we approach the closing date,” a spokesperson said.

Additional information on how to complete a SAF application is available on the DAERA website, as well as an explanatory video.