ACRES Scheme Short-changing Farmers

IFA Hill Farming Chair Caillin Conneely has said any faith in ACRES is wearing thin among hill farmers and those in SAC/Co-Operation areas, as more false promises raise their head.

“ACRES is becoming a farce at this stage. We were promised up to €10,500 each year for the five years of the scheme, but it’s looking like we won’t get the colour of it at this stage,” he said.

“Minister McConalogue assured us only a few weeks ago that all farmers would get their balancing ACRES payments in June, and that approvals for Non-Productive Investments would commence late summer. Now these commitments have been watered down and we hear that NPI decision letters are ‘planned to issue before the end of this year’ (up to 12 months after applications closed potentially), and that more than one-third of Tranche 1 applicants will get no balancing payment at all in June,” he said.

“I’d be worried what’s coming down the tracks and how many farmers will find their ANC / BISS payments cut because of scoring and interim over-payment. It’s a mess, and it’s just not acceptable,” he said.

IFA Rural Development chair John Curran said farm finances have been hit hard due to weather conditions and the Department cannot stand over pulling any over-payment from the next farm payment.

“It might be the easiest option for them to administer, but it isn’t fair on the farmer who entered into this scheme in good faith to undergo necessary actions and be paid amounts owed on-time. An agreed repayment schedule is needed, on a case-by-case basis, spanning the lifetime of ACRES. Otherwise, we are potentially looking at serious cashflow problems later this year,” he said.

“We need a rethink here too. If the ACRES scheme is too complex, change it. Farmers can’t continually be at a loss because the Department can’t issue payments, or approvals, or scores in time, for whatever reason.”

IFA Ulster / North Leinster Regional Chair and SAC Project Team Chair Frank Brady said the Department should pay all ACRES CP farmers their €10,500 for this year. It’s not the farmers fault that the NPIs are not out, and the applications for Landscape Actions not open.

“Not getting these extra payments totally undermines farmer confidence in these types of environment schemes. It needs to be resolved quickly.”

“If the Department are talking about building on the goodwill of farmers to help the environment, this ‘flagship scheme’ is a very poor start. I’m calling on the Department to urgently engage with the IFA to clarify current situations and outline how it will be resolved, and farmers get what they were promised,” he concluded.

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