Fianna Fáil Seanad Spokesperson on Agriculture, Brian Ó Domhnaill has expressed “grave concern” at the fact that farmers were penalised as much as 400% more last year for cross compliance breaches by the Department of Agriculture compared to 2005.

Senator Ó Domhnaill was reacting to an article by the ‘Farming Independent’ which highlights that twice as many farmers were subject to cross compliance penalties last year than in 2005 and the severity of fines increased significantly.

Senator Ó Domhnaill said: “The figures published by the ‘Farming Independent’ makes for worrying reading. Farmers were fined more than €2.4 million last year compared to just €620,000 in 2005, new figures have shown.

“A total of €13 million has been deducted from the Single Farm Payment (SFP) of farmers in the seven year period between 2005 and 2012 with the level of penalties rising dramatically in 2011. The Minister for Agriculture has serious questions to answer as to why farmers are being targeted in this way under his watch.

“The figures show that cross compliance penalties peaked in 2011, when more than €2.8 million was deducted from farmers’ SFP payments.”

Senator Ó Domhnaill said farmers in Donegal have experienced “drastic” penalty increases reaching €55,193 in 2012 compared to €1,722 in 2005.

“The huge penalties/fines being imposed on farmers is extremely worrying. The 2,472 penalties issues in 2012 were for quite minor technical infringements which should not warrant any payment deductions. For example, broken guttering on a shed or a missing tag warrants a cash penalty being levied against a farmer’s payment.

“The figures show an extremely worrying trend that the proportion of farmers SFP held back in penalties increased every year between 2006 and 2011. In 2011, the cross compliance penalties amounted to 23% of the total SFP.

“Coupled with the increase in the number of penalties is the fact that the severity of the penalties has increased exponentially. In 2005, some 18 farmers were penalised 15% or more of their SFP, while in 2011, almost 800 farmers were fined 15% or more of their SFP.”

“Farmers who were deemed to have breached cross compliance rules in 2011 were penalised an average of €996 each. The 2012 figures could increase even further because the Department of Agriculture figures do not include the final tally for penalties under the nitrates inspections.

“I am calling on the Minister for Agriculture to immediately review the overall penalty system and to introduce a ‘Penalty Notice or Yellow Card’ system which would allow farmers a period of time to rectify any specific identified problems.”