“This 85% advance payment, worth €113m, is vital source of income for farmers. It’s important that all remaining participants are also paid without delay,” he said.
All GLAS contracts will finish at the end of 2022. The scheme will be replaced by the Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) from January 2023, as set out in the CAP Strategic Plan 2023-2027.
Following strong IFA representations, the application deadline for ACRES has been extended by two weeks to Dec 7th.
“An extension to the original deadline was needed. However, an extra two weeks may not be enough to allow planners make applications for all farmers who have expressed interest in joining the scheme. A further extension would allow every farmer who wants to submit an application a chance at doing so. Rushed applications will only lead to shortcomings for farmers down the line,” he said.
Recent developments relating to the Burren Programme, which has led to the resignation of two founders of the programme, raises serious questions about the credibility of the ACRES Burren Aran Co-Operation Project.
“The events in the Burren prove that when an environmental scheme is designed in an office, ignoring the needs and concerns of those farming in the most sensitive landscape in the country, it simply won’t work. It’s incredible that a project, which is used as a template for numerous others across the EU, is forced to reduce its environmental standard. The Minister needs to step up and ensure that no farmer suffers a loss in income due to the design of the new ACRES scheme.”
Issues surrounding the tranche-based approach of ACRES remain. Budget 2023 only catered for 30,000 applicants under Tranche 1 of ACRES which is likely to be significantly oversubscribed.
Michael Biggins said the tranche-based approach is likely to leave some farmers without an environment scheme payment for a year. This could be avoided by either offering a bridging payment to farmers who are not successful in Tranche 1 of ACRES that matches their previous agri-environment scheme payment, or alternatively pay an upfront payment in 2023 for Tranche 2 ACRES participants, similar to the way REPS payments were in the past.
“It is vital that no farmer who wishes to participate in ACRES is left without an agri-environment scheme payment for a year,” he concluded.