Farm Mapping

Agriculture and Rural Development – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 15 March 2011.

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Photo of Declan O'Loan Declan O'Loan Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:00, 15 March 2011

7. asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development for her assessment of whether there will be any significant problems when the new farm mapping exercise is completed.        (AQO 1288/11)

Photo of Michelle Gildernew Michelle Gildernew Sinn Féin

Although I am not anticipating any major problems with the land parcel identification system (LPIS) after the mapping project is completed, the process is not straightforward. The mapping project will be carried out in two phases. Phase 1, which will be substantially completed by early 2012, will deal with the issues that are of most concern to the EU auditors and will remove areas from fields that are ineligible to receive area-based payments. It is essential that farmers check their new maps carefully to tell us about any changes. If they do so, the risk of their facing penalties and our facing further disallowance will hopefully be substantially reduced. Phase 2, which will be completed in early 2013, will amend the DARD farm maps to align them with GPS technology. If farmers carefully check their maps again, the risk of disallowance should be further reduced.

We are all in this together. My Department will provide an updated map, but farmers are responsible for ensuring that the maps are correct and that they claim for eligible land only. Given the dynamic nature of maps, we cannot become complacent. After the mapping exercise is completed, farmers will need to tell us about any changes to their maps in the future. My Department will continue to improve the maps and, to that end, is developing long-term linkages with Land and Property Services (LPS). That will include provisions for LPS and DARD to share information on mapping changes, which will help to synchronise both sets of maps and to keep them up to date as far as practical. Although we hope that that minimises the risk of farmers’ penalties and further disallowance related to the LPIS project, that ultimately depends on the EU Commission being satisfied that we have the required controls in place.

Photo of Declan O'Loan Declan O'Loan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for her answer. Has she ensured that an independent quality control mechanism is used for the mapping exercise? I ask that question advisedly because I have seen the operation being carried out and believe that there are distinct limitations to it. However, that is not a criticism of the LPS staff who are involved in it.

Photo of Michelle Gildernew Michelle Gildernew Sinn Féin

I certainly feel that we need to keep a very careful eye on that and to ensure that proper monitoring is in place. We have received significant investment for that through invest to save. We need to ensure that it is done right. However, the best mechanism of quality control is basically farmers telling us when the maps do not correlate with a feature on their land.

Photo of Cathal Boylan Cathal Boylan Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Just for clarity, will the Minister indicate whether the mapping exercise is on target for completion?

Photo of Michelle Gildernew Michelle Gildernew Sinn Féin

As I said, our aim is to reduce the risk of disallowance as far as possible by the start of the 2012 single farm payment scheme year, and we are on target to achieve that.

Phase 1, which corrects the main issues in the maps, will be substantially complete by that stage. Phase 2, which aims to bring the maps into line with GPS technologies, will not finish until early 2013. However, we anticipate that the effects of that at farm level will be generally small. Therefore, it represents a much lower risk of disallowance.

Photo of Trevor Clarke Trevor Clarke DUP 2:15, 15 March 2011

Is the Minister satisfied that those maps, in comparison with the previous maps that her Department spent many thousands of pounds setting out, will be more accurate?

Photo of Michelle Gildernew Michelle Gildernew Sinn Féin

As I have said in the House before, technology changes all the time. I expect that the maps will be of a better quality and will show more. As technology increases, we have to get better with it. However, I expect that there will be some changes to people’s maps. What would be the point in carrying out another costly exercise if we are going to reproduce the same maps?

Photo of Trevor Clarke Trevor Clarke DUP

They were your fault anyway.

Photo of Dolores Kelly Dolores Kelly Social Democratic and Labour Party

As some Members will be aware, across council chambers, the SDLP has been committed to the promotion and retention of the use of townland names. Will the Minister confirm that townland names will be used in the mapping exercise for the townlands and fields on which farm holdings are located?

Photo of Michelle Gildernew Michelle Gildernew Sinn Féin

Absolutely. In every area of work, we will do all that we can to promote the use of townland names.

It is interesting that the Member should ask that supplementary question. I had a visit last night from someone on behalf of the census team, who was insisting on getting my road number. I was equally insistent that I do not use a road number and that I use my townland. It was a wee bit difficult to persuade that person that my townland was a genuine way of identifying my address.

I hope that other Departments are as proactive on that as we are.