Thousands of farmers could be forced to shell out for professional help to fix a ‘disastrous’ mapping blunder from the Rural Payments Agency (RPA).
Since the middle of August, the RPA has been updating its mapping data in order to avoid hefty fines from the European Commission, but many of the changes being made to farmers’ maps are completely wrong.
More than 80 per cent of farmers are thought to have had their maps amended, and industry figures are increasingly concerned about the impact this could have on the accuracy of 2017 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments and the delivery of 2018 cash.
Farmers participating in agri-environment schemes may also see payments from Natural England delayed because of inaccurate changes which merge fields on separate management agreements or mark grassland areas being used for greening as permanent grass.
Derbyshire farmer and NFU county adviser Andrew Critchlow has had 48 out of 54 parcels of land on his farm changed, and estimated it would take ‘at least a day’s work’ to put the mistakes right.
“Only two of those changes I can say are right, the rest of them are nonsense”, he said.
“They have removed a few shelter belts and they have got rid of all permanent ineligible features such as tracks and hard standings, yet they are clearly visible from aerial photos.
“Over the years, I have kept sending RLE1 forms in to update as we made changes, but all of this past history has just been deleted in a stroke.
“It is going to send out the message to farmers, ‘why should I bother updating things because all you are going to do is come along and ride roughshod over it all’.”
The errors have also been causing massive headaches for land agents.
Jude Peeling, farm office services manager at Bagshaws in Bakewell, criticised the RPA for failing to carry out any initial tests before the massive re-mapping exercise began.
More than 51 per cent of Bagshaws’ 271 clients received messages in the online payment system warning mapping changes were being made, but the RPA has not sent any direct e-mails to farmers to let them know about the alterations – leaving many unaware of potential mistakes.
On average each farmer has had ten field changes, but some have had up to 50, raising concerns about how the RPA will handle the huge numbers of mapping queries farmers will make as they log on to the system to make 2018 applications.
“It is absolute madness”, Ms Peeling said.
“They have overridden the historic maps without giving us a chance to look at them. We have to go back to our paper maps, plus the paper application and then compare what the changes are.
“This is causing a heck of a lot of work. It is going to be an add-on cost to the farmer. Some of the cost we will try to absorb, but some of it we will have to charge.”
A spokesman for the RPA said: “This year RPA has made a number of updates to mapping information to protect the taxpayer from disallowance fines.
“The RPA has contacted relevant farmers, land managers and agents following changes to digital land maps to provide updates via the online Rural Payments service.
“Anyone who does not agree with a mapping change can tell RPA using an RLE1 form.”