IFA President Tim Cullinan said the new agri-environment scheme is far from a ‘new REPS’.
“The Government and the Minister have been trying to spin this as a ‘REPS-type scheme’ since it first appeared in the Programme for Government. However, it has little or nothing in common with the original Rural Environmental Protection Scheme (REPS),” he said.
“Since the original REPS, we have had the AEOS and GLAS. Each has seen more compliance and less income for farmers. This new scheme is extremely complicated. It will exclude many farmers and huge amounts funding will leak to people running the Co-operation model,” he said.
The new AECM proposes to have up to 50,000 farmers participating and it’s planned to open the scheme over at least two tranches. Tranche 1 is scheduled to open at the end of this year, with scheme participation commencing in January 2023.
Tranche 2 is to open for applications in quarter 4 2023, with scheme participation commencing in January 2024.
IFA Rural Development Chairman Michael Biggins said all farmers who apply for the new ACEM in 2023 must be paid in the same year.
“There is a real concern about income if there is a lag between GLAS and ACEM, which will be caused by the tranche approach. Not accepting all participants into the scheme in 2023 is simply unacceptable. GLAS/AECM payments are a critically important part of farmers’ incomes. It is essential that all applicants under all tranches receive a payment in 2023 and the scheme cannot be limited to 50,000 participants.”
“I am calling on the Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue to ensure no farmer is without an environment scheme payment for 2023. This can be done by either rolling over 12,000 GLAS 3 participants for 2023 or alternatively by paying an upfront payment in 2023 for Tranche 2 participants similar to the way REPS payments were in the past.”
Michael Biggins said, “If the scheme is to live up to expectations, payment rates for prescription-based measures must be improved upon when compared to the GLAS payment rate and the payment rate of €10,500 per farmer for the Co-operative areas must also be available to farmers in the scheme general option”.
He said both the co-operative model and the general option are to include results-based measures. Results-based measures must be realistic and suitable for all sectors, include a large list of options and provide for simple scoring which is easily defined. They must also be practical and achievable.
“Consultation with farmers on the design of the scheme has been minimal, but from what we have seen it will cause huge frustration amongst farmers. For a scheme which is due to open this year, there are simply not enough details available to help farmers prepare,” he said.
Michael Biggins said to honour the Programme for Government commitment of a REPS-type scheme, the Minister must ensure that payments of €10,500 are available to all farmers in both the General and the Co-operative options and it cannot be limited to 50,000 farmers. It must be open to all farmers who wish to participate.