24 September 2020 - Page 3

NOVEMBER 09 2017
FARM editorial
WEEK by Robert Irwin
FQAS is now
more important
than ever
HE Farm Quality Assurance Scheme
has reached the milestone of its 25th
It was devised back in 1992 in those
halcyon days when the Dutch supermarket chain, Albert Heijn, was paying
record prices for Northern Ireland beef,
but were keen to have a promotional tool
which would help them to develop their
Greenfields label. It was the green, clean
image of grass-fed beef which had first
attracted Albert Heijn to the Province
and the scheme was designed to encapsulate those attributes and set a code of
practice for local beef producers.
Given that beef animals carrying a FQAS
label attracted a premium above the going rate back in those days, there was a
ready supply of farmers wishing to join.
Initial ‘inspections’ were cursory and
often involved a chat in one of the outhouses and once a few boxes were
ticked, the obligatory cup of tea at the
kitchen table. However, as time went
on the scheme did encounter some resistance as the criteria for renewal of
membership became more burdensome
on the farmer. Inspections were often
fraught affairs and inspectors were
accused of knowing or caring little about
the minutiae of beef production.
Tying gates with baler twine was
frowned upon and the cleanliness of the
farmyard was noted, along with broken
guttering and what seemed a myriad
of minor breaches of compliance were
resisted by those who didn’t wish to or
couldn’t afford the required updating of
their property.
Over the years most of these difficulties
were ironed out. The standard of inspector improved with a more understanding
and knowledgeable team recruited. Also,
as farmers implemented the changes,
however grudgingly, they found that
the subsequent inspections were much
more straightforward. They had arrived
at the required standard to bear the title
‘Quality Assured’.
Another major issue as the years progressed was the additional payment. Initially seen as a bonus, for that indeed was
what it was, as more farmers joined the
scheme the FQAS price became the norm
and those still outside the scheme felt
they were facing a penalty for not joining.
Whether the price differential between
FQAS or non-FQAS was a bonus or a penalty is a moot point but the price differential was certainly the motivation for the
vast majority of the 12,000 members of
the scheme joining.
Now the scheme seems to have settled
into a certain maturity with non-compliances generally of a minor nature.
Farmers now know what to expect at an
inspection so there is a better working
The potential benefits of the scheme to
the industry were evident from the outset
but the scourge of BSE in 1996 scuppered
much of the optimism of those early
days. Now as we face into the unknown
territory of post-Brexit markets, the true
value of a quality assured scheme may be
about to be realised.
LEFT: Eighteen-year-old
Meghan Campbell enjoyed
attending the Plumbridge
Livestock Mart annual
Blackface ram sale.
Farmers waiting anxiously
for Tranche 2 of new FBIS
BALLYMENA beef and sheep farmer Kevin
MacAuley writes:
Many farmers are waiting on the opening
of Tranche 2 of the new Farm Business
Improvement Scheme. Tier 1 is for eligible
items costing between £5,000 and £30,000.
Around 3,500 farmers applied for it but
unfortunately only approximately 1,500
applications were successful, leaving 2,000
disappointed farmers.
I hope that these disappointed farmers will
receive priority in this new tranche. Young
farmers under 40 received five points. They
should receive more to encourage them. They
are the future of the industry. They have
the energy, enthusiasm and ability to adapt
to new ideas. Darwin is reported to have
said: “It is not the strongest of the species
that survives or the most intelligent that
survives. It is the one that is most adaptable
to change.” Certainly the youth of today are
very adaptable to change.
The minimum spend of £5,000 rules out
many small farmers. They may need an item
under £5,000. The grant on this would be
equally as important to them as a bigger
grant to a larger farmer. That lower limit
should be halved.
I hope that this time applicants will not be
compelled to produce a letter from the banks
stating that applicants have enough funds to
cover their applications. With 40 per cent of
farmers having no loans from banks, it has
been very difficult for banks to certify the
amount of funds needed in some cases. It has
led to some applicants being wrongly refused
a letter of confirmation. However, I must
compliment the banks for not charging for
this service.
Furthermore, possibly up to half the
applicants or even more have an agricultural
certificate from Greenmount or a level 2
qualification. Five points were allowed
for these qualifications. It demonstrates
how little value DAERA places upon these
qualifications. It is an insult to imply that
farmers are unable to judge whether they can
afford to spend £30,000.
Farmers can receive a grant up to £250,000
in Tier 2. However, it is in chaos. Some
farmers applied for it in February and spent
thousands of pounds on planning and
engineers fees and have not received any
letters to the editor
FarmWeek, 113-117 Donegall Street,
Belfast, BT1 2GE
approval. Other farmers have also spent
thousands and have either been turned
down or abandoned the scheme. It has been
designed to make it as difficult to access as
A scheme that allows around 150 farmers to
receive a grant of up to £250,000 while 2,000
receive nothing is biased. It is divisive and
results in first and second class farmers. It is
sacrificing small farmers for the benefit of the
chosen few. It is helping to create mega farms.
It does not help our clean green image which
helps to sell our produce. This is the first time
it has happened in my 60 years of farming.
It is a vast change on the era when your
friendly Department official came out with a
smile on his face to advise and help farmers
with their applications for grants. When the
work was completed he arrived back with
another smile to approve it. He would even
help with form filling. In those days there
was no online or computers. There were even
no adding machines. It was all brains and
hard work. Today even the administration
of the scheme is awarded to outside firms. It
certainly is changed times.
The now defunct Agri-Food Strategy Board
recommended in its report that Government
should make £250 million available to fund
the new Farm Business Improvement Scheme.
Some £40 million has already been allotted.
Farmers had expectations that this would
be quickly utilised and further funds made
available. However, it appears that DEFRA
may not be able to administer the existing £40
million let alone more within the timescale.
That would certainly be a poor reflection on
the abilities of DAERA.
PS: I am delighted that Orchard House is
now going to pay some and probably all those
farmers their ANC payments who failed to tick
the correct box in their Single Farm Payment
form. Some farmers were going to lose
thousands. Sadly, humans are not infallible
and we make many mistakes.
Yours, &c,
Feeling low or feeling stressed?
Helpline: 0845 606 7607
Visit: www.ruralsupport.org.uk


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