For Farmers Weekly June 2015
By the time this column appears, the silly season will be over for another year. This year was remarkable, however, because it lasted a month longer than usual.
Farmers do a very strange thing at this time of year. They pay someone else to do a job they are probably better qualified to do themselves.
Filling in your Single Application Form in the spring should be one of those jobs that farmers everywhere should look forward to. We are able to do it when the weather is bad and when we can get nothing else done. We can do it when it’s dark and we can do it a little bit at a time. Dare I say it? We can even do it wearing our slippers, sitting in our favourite chair with a cup of coffee by our side. And, best of all, it pays very well. What is there not to like about filling in your annual SAF? And why would you get anyone else to do it for you?
Yet thousands of farmers, who have perfectly good broadband connections and adequate computers, will pay someone else to do their SAF for them. It defies all logic.
The person the farmer will eventually pay to do the work won’t have any of the information they will need to complete the task for him. The farmer will have to furnish the person with all the necessary information. Plus, the person the farmer will pay to do the job doesn’t need to have any special skills, knowledge or qualifications to complete the work – unlike an accountant, for example.
From my own experience this year, I found that the new online SAF was fine, if you have basic computer skills. The online service is not lightning fast, but that can be a blessing if you’re like me and you’re not in the first flush of youth.
My holding has 64 individual fields to process so those few seconds it took for each one to be saved online was a moment to relax and prepare to take the next step. Speed is not of the essence when you are working on your own SAF.
But here lies the problem. The new online service is great for hundreds of wrinkly farmers to work on their own SAF from different locations at the same time. But, it’s not ideal for one whizz-kid consultant to sit in an office to work their way through hundreds of farmers’ SAFs – one at a time. All those seconds that tick by while they are waiting for information to be saved on to the website soon adds up. Their work rate drops and the piles of clients files on the “still to do” pile mounts up. All the while, the closing date for applications gets closer.
It’s been a disaster that has been waiting to happen and just when we least needed it. Everyone knew there was a bottleneck in the system. Yet many, very capable people, still joined the queue that was forming outside the door of their local consultant’s office.
Working online has been around for long enough now for everyone to know that it is not an interim step towards something else. This is the way we will have to do our business from now on. More of us need to get our sleeves rolled up and set about getting the job done ourselves next year.
Receiving the single payment could now be at least a month further away than normal. Many farmers will be starting now to prepare for a cashflow disaster at the end of this year. Perhaps it’s also time to prepare to do their own SAF next spring.