Changes necessary to ensure that farmers are getting a fair rate from Farm Assist were highlighted by Minister Seán Canney to the Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar TD, when he visited Tuam on Saturday last.
‘In recent years I have helped many farmers through the Farm Assist process and it is very apparent to me that the current system is seriously flawed as it does not take costs incurred by farmers fully into account. Because of that, many farmers are receiving a low rate of payment when in fact they should be on the maximum rate. This is an issue that I highlighted in the Independent Alliance Charter for Change and which formed part of the negotiations on the Programme for a Partnership Government.
‘The Programme for a Partnership Government committed to a review of the Farm Assist scheme and that review is currently underway and that it why I sought to speak to Minister Varadkar on this issue during his recent visit to Tuam. During the course of our discussions I highlighted the need to change the treatment of various costs under the Farm Assist assessment regime, for example broadband costs must be fully allowable in an era when the Department of Agriculture is seeking to have more and more grant applications done online.
‘Many of the farmers I speak to in relation to Farm Assist have very fragmented farms and use a car to travel between land parcels, but the allowance for non-tractor travel costs is far too low and many farmers are losing out as a result.
‘I also brought in a number of farmers who are on Farm Assist to speak to the Minister about their experiences as it is good for him to hear from people on the ground as to how the scheme works or doesn’t work for them.
‘Nothing short of a sea-change in attitude to Farm Assist is needed within the Department of Social Protection. I believe that thousands of farmers across the country are losing out because either they haven’t applied for Farm Assist because they are put off by the red tape involved or they are getting a payment which is lower than what they should be entitled to.
‘Accessing Farm Assist will allow farmers to access other schemes and during last Saturday’s visit I also highlighted to the Minister the excellent work being done by Community Employment schemes and Rural Social Schemes across the region as I believe that numbers on such schemes must be increased.’
‘I found last Saturday’s visit by the Minister to be constructive and worthwhile and hope that he left the Galway East area with a better understanding of the difficulties faced by low income farmers seeking to access Farm Assist.’