SPS Online intermittent submission problems

The transition to online Single Payment Scheme submissions has been going well ever since the first submission was made using our Single Payment Supervisor software back in 2008.

Unfortunately many users have been stopped in their tracks since Friday 11th April due to problems with the Government Gateway, a key component on which SPS Online relies. Initially not everyone was affected by this with most experiencing very slow and frustrating usage of SPS Online. By Wednesday 16th April SPS Online had gone down completely! Thankfully later that day the problems were being reported as resolved only for problems to rear there head again temporarily on Tuesday 22nd April.

For farmers with a single application to submit it could be argued that the downtime was not a big issue as there is still plenty of time to make submissions (Until 15th May). However this doesn’t account for land agents who make many applications (land agents submit nearly 4,000 applications from our Single Payment Supervisor software alone) and often have only just enough time to complete all the submissions (made worse this year by the preparations for the new Basic Payment Scheme and FFIS applications). The six days of barely being able to use SPS Online is a major setback that some land agents will struggle to overcome (Unless you were using our Single Payment Supervisor software which allows you to complete your application offline and submit it when everything is working correctly).

Many land agents have enquired about an extension to the deadline but indications from RPA is this can/will not happen. Once again RPA are guilty of not fully understanding the importance of land agents. In the past some cynics have suggested RPA don’t like land agents as it reduces the fines and penalties they can administer. This is not an opinion we agree with, believing RPA to be an honest if at times frustrating agency.

Our advice is to make sure you get a best effort application submitted by midnight 15th May and then make any required alterations before midnight the penalty free amendment deadline on 2nd June. Make sure have read and understood the SPS handbook and any relevant documents relating to the submission deadlines.

Hopefully no problems with occur.

ARAMS (Animal Recording And Movement Service)

With less than two weeks until the system is scheduled to go live everyone should have heard about the the new Animal Recording And Movement Service (ARAMS) for sheep, goats and deer. We’ve been talking to people within the industry and there appears to be plenty of sheep farmers, farm managers and even markets that know little or nothing about the new system. There are even more people who are confused about what ARAMS is and what benefits it offers.

ARAMS is the new system for sheep farmers to notify sheep, goat & deer movements. No more sending AML1 forms to your local Trading Standards, instead producers must notify ARAMS at their Milton Keynes office. The first thing to clarify is that AML1 forms must accompany sheep, goats and deer on all movements (a slightly modified version of the form will be released) as they do presently. Notifying ARAMS can be done via mail and fax as usual or via two new methods; firstly a new website run by ARAMS and secondly via your Farm Software Provider such as our highly recommended Farm Matters.

ARAMS is definitely a good idea for inspectors and legislative bodies like RPA with all movements recorded in a central location in a standardised format. But will it benefit farmers? Maybe! Since an AML1 must still accompany all movements little will change in the practicalities of moving sheep, goats and deer. The benefits will be more from a record keeping & reporting perspective. You will now be able to record and notify movements in a single step using electronic notifying rather than keeping the required records and then posting/faxing a copy to Trading Standards. Unfortunately the electronic reporting system is not as straight forward as good old BCMS. Whereas BCMS simply requires you to notify an on or off regardless of where cattle are being moved from/to, ARAMS take a different approach.

  • You cannot record movements to store or slaughter markets, it is the markets responsibility to record this
  • On movements should not be notified rather you must confirm on movements from a list downloaded from ARAMS
  • However on movements where you are also recording the off movement should be notified in full to ARAMS

Our research leads us to believe initially most sheep farmers are not going to use electronic reporting and instead stay with the tried and tested methods of fax and mail. Some farmers will benefit from ARAMS while most will wonder ‘What am I gaining?’; the answer unfortunately is not a great deal.

Single Payment 2014 underway

Yesterday saw the SPS e-Channel go live for 2014. This is six days earlier than RPA have ever gone live before giving farmers and land agents longer to complete their applications. As usual you have until 15th May to complete all your applications without penalty.

Our Single Payment Supervisor software has already been used to download hundreds of forms, with a few early birds having submitted applications too. As with previous years our software is significantly faster than using SPS Online and offers a host of other features.

If you are struggling with your Single Payment Scheme application or want piece of mind that it has been completed correctly we recommend you get professional advice from a reputable land agent such as Countryside Consulting Ltd (01409 281 038).

SPS payments reduced 4% – In one hand out the other

Single Payment Supervisor It has been confirmed by the European Commision that 2013 SPS payments will be cut by four percent for those receiving over £1,700. Why? There simply isn’t enough money in the Common Agricultural Policy budget to cover the payments across the European Union (EU), in fact they estimate they are €1.47 billion short.

Some conciliation can be found in the fact this reduction will be offset with the higher 4.76% exchange rate. The reality though sees farmers getting less than they expected from the Common Agricultural Policy.

Maybe this is something farmers need to get used to with the EU cutting farm spending over the next several years. As a result maybe we should all need to get used to paying more for our milk, beef, lamb and pork?

Cross Compliance breaches cost farmers £1.4 million in 2012

RPA have released figures showing that farmers have seen their SPS (Single Payment Scheme) payments reduced by £1.4 million for failing to comply with the Cross Compliance regulations.

Of the 1,947 breaches, the most common was failing to report cattle deaths or movements, at 670 breaches. It is important to not only keep accurate records but to report them to BCMS in a timely manner. Reporting movements and deaths is easy with a host of options: CTS Online, CTS Self-Service Helpline or our personal favourite, Farm Matters.

The number of NVZ (Nitrate Vulnerabel Zone) breaches have almost trebled from 72 to 205 in 2012. We understand the NVZ regulations appear complicated but RPA will not accept this as a reason for failure to keep the accurate and up to date records. If you struggle with NVZ record keeping either use our farmer friendly software, NVZ Matters, or contact a qualifed professional, such as Countryside Consulting Ltd (01409 281 038).

Can you afford to lose 5% of your SPS payments? No! Ensure you keep your Cross Compliance records accurate and up to date.

Single Payment Supervisor off and running

Today Single Payment Supervisor Online went live. Already we have had many customers downloading forms and several claim submissions.

Remember if you’ve used the online system before RPA will no longer send you a paper copy of your form, although you can request one by contacting them. For those who haven’t used the online system before (I recommend Single Payment Supervisor for this) your paper forms should follow soon and also include your PIN letters needed to use the online service.

Unfortunately for agents who don’t have a PIN number for this service already you cannot request a new PIN until 7th March when RPA switch the required system back on.

Badger cull – How effective will it be in stopping bovine TB?

Research carried out by Durham University has claimed that the impact badgers have on spreading TB to cattle is highly overstated. Professor Peter Atkins of Durham University suggests that carefully arranged culling in South West England and South Wales may have a part to play in the reduction of bovine TB but elsewhere may not be justified or particularly effective.

This is contrary to the governments position, who feel their strategy for tackling badger numbers to is the right thing to do to reduce instances of bovine TB. Enivroment Secretary Owen Paterson has recently stated “Having looked at all the evidence over many years, I am utterly convinced that badger control is the right thing to do, and indeed the higher than expected badger numbers only serve to underline the need for urgent action”.

The evidence Paterson talks about definitely exists, instances of bovine TB are higher in areas with badgers and it is medical fact that badgers do suffer from and carry the the same strain of mycobacteria which causes bovine TB. Atkins however suggests that when you look deeper things are more complex than they appear. He claims the Randomised Badger Culling Trial demonstrated the complexity of the issues and that badger culling was unlikely to be effective for controlling bovine TB. Atkins states culling attempts could even “exacerbate the problem” by driving badgers to different areas.

The one thing everyone agrees about is that bovine TB needs to be stopped with 34,897 cattle compulsorily slaughtered as reactors or direct contacts in 2012. It seems there is a growing opinion that badger culling will not be as effective as first thought and that alternative measures need to be reassessed. Suggests include: vaccinating against bovine TB in cattle is forbidden by EU legislation but vaccinating badgers has shown some promising results; further research into an acceptable cattle vaccine and greater lobbying in Europe to make this a priority issue; improved testing; and tighter movement controls.

BCMS electronic cattle movement reporting up again

RPA have reported the proportion of cattle movements reported electronically to BCMS has hit record highs for two consecutive months. December saw a record 95% of movements reported electronically either through CTS Online, CTS Web Services or the CTS Self-Service Line. This represented an increase of 17% over reporting in December 2010. However the record high didn’t last long as in January 95.49% of cattle movements were reported electronically.

With such a small proportion of cattle movements being reported using paper forms (Only 10% of births too) it does raise the question might it worth stopping the paper form method and force 100% electronic reporting by farmers?

There are now several different methods of electronic reporting through the Internet, telephone or farm software. This gives the farmer a choice of services to meet their needs with the minimum requirement being a telephone. In addition farm software packages can reduce the duplication of record keeping and reporting. Electronic record keeping would help to reduce RPA costs, reduce farmers costs and improve the reliability of reporting (we won’t get into the Royal Mail’s reliability).

There does appear to be a strong case for compulsary electronic reporting, however not everyone has confidence in the technology and it is important that all farmers have confidence in how the system works. Also it seems doubtful in the current financial climate that any reduction in operating costs, once the need to process the paper forms is gone, will result in any benefit to the farming community.

While we are strong advocates of electronic reporting we would suggest that even higher proportions of farmers need to voluntarily use electronic methods before it should be made compulsory.

The horse meat scandal – every cloud has a silver lining!

The horse meat scandal has been trotting (sorry!) on for a week now with the source appearing to be Romania. Some people are speculating this is the fallout of a law in Romania banning horses from roads. In the UK this has resulted in the reputation of companies such as Tesco and Findus taking a hit and reduced confidence in processed beef products.

So where is the silver lining? With consumer confidence in processed beef low they are looking to get there meat from closer to the source. This means local butchers and farm shops with some farm shops reporting an upsurge in beef sales of up to 30%. It is nice to see small businesses taking some of their custom back from the large supermarkets (let’s hope it continues).


Single Payment Supervisor faster than SPS Online?

Single Payment SupervisorIn 2012 we analysed sixteen Single Payment Scheme claims (we know it isn’t exactly a major study but we did at least vary the complexity of the claims) comparing how long they took to complete on paper compared to using Single Payment Supervisor and found it was 48.2% faster using our software.

We had hoped to compare Single Payment Supervisor to SPS Online but time wasn’t on our side, however we managed three comparisons. Please note this is definitely too small a sample group to draw solid conclusions! The tests involved completing the claims but not actually submitting them.

On average Single Payment Supervisor was 28.6% faster than SPS Online. This was due to the significantly better responsiveness of Single Payment Supervisor. With SPS Online a lot of time was spent refreshing web pages (Note we used a high speed 20Mb Internet connection).

Once again we must stress that this is too small a sample group from which to draw firm conclusions. That being said the evidence here does support the feedback we have received from customers that our software if faster (and easier) then SPS Online.