The Irish Government has provided further details on what the Taoiseach, Michael Martin TD, described as “the largest single investment ever” by the Irish Government when it presented an update to the Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (“ACRES”) this morning.
ACRES, part of Ireland’s draft CAP Strategic Plan, sees €1.5 billion channeled into the country’s agri-food sector. It is hoped that the initiative will come into force early next year, although the draft proposal still has to be approved by the European Commission.
“This €1.5 billion scheme is the largest single investment ever made by an Irish government and fulfills an important commitment to develop a flagship environmental scheme under the new CAP that is user-friendly for farmers and more comprehensive benefits for the environment and biodiversity,”said Martin. “Climate change is a threat to all of us and our way of life; and the agricultural sector has a critical role to play in meeting the challenge while creating resilient farm operations for generations to come.”
Under the proposal, Martin said, around 50,000 farmers would be “supported” to achieve “measurable” climate, biodiversity and water quality gains.
“This is the highest amount of money ever committed by any government to a single agri-environmental scheme, so it’s great news that ACRES is getting this far.”Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine Charlie McConalogue TD added.
“Farmers play an important role”
Irish lawmakers hope the initiative will offer farmers income support while tackling issues such as biodiversity loss and environmental protection.
“Farmers have played an important role in protecting the environment and enhancing biodiversity over the years through their participation in agri-environmental schemes,”remarked McConalogue.
All farmers have the opportunity to apply for ACRES funds through two access routes, a nationally available ‘general approach’ and a ‘collaborative approach’ available to farmers in ‘high priority geographical areas’.
Martin Heydon, TD Secretary of State with specific responsibility for Research and Development, Agricultural Safety and New Market Development at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, said both approaches will focus on “results-based measures”, with payments tied to a points system .
“This is a positive development for the environment and participants, as the higher payment levels for higher scores are an incentive to be even better stewards of our environment.”he prophesied.
“I know that farmers’ obligation to do what is right for the environment is clear, especially given their involvement in previous agri-environmental schemes. I firmly believe in the power of one individual, where the largest possible number of people, working together, will bring about significant change.”
The government previously committed to total funding of €9.83 billion for the 2023-2027 CAP strategic plan. Both the total national funding and the level of co-funding are significantly higher than in the previous CAP program – over a period of seven years funding is almost €1.2 billion higher, an increase of almost 30% compared to 2014 funding -2020 corresponds to .
“It’s associated with bureaucracy”
Despite promises of increased government support, the Irish Farmers’ Organization (IFA) remains skeptical about a new system that it has warned is “likely to be a bureaucratic nightmare”.
“While we cannot fully see the exact terms of the program, it looks very complicated and will likely involve some bureaucracy.”said IFA President Tim Cullinan.
Cullinan complained the move was “typical” of the approach McConalogue and the Department of Agriculture are currently taking: “Big announcements with headlines before the details are properly discussed with farmers.”
Do environmental regulations burden farmers unfairly?
Referring to the state of Irish agricultural policy, the IFA President said that the “various” environmental programs that have come and gone in the country all have one thing in common: “Each version has cost farmers more with no increase in income.”
Cullinan does not expect ACRES funding to actually reach local farmers. “It will shut out a lot of farmers and huge amounts of money will go to people running the collaborative model and other advisors,”he prophesied.
So what do farmers need for environmental programs to support real change?
IFA Rural Development Chair Michael Biggins said all farmers applying in 2023 must be paid in the same year.
“It simply cannot happen that not all participants are accepted into the program in 2023. Agri-environmental payments are an extremely important part of farmers’ income. It is important that all applicants receive a payment in all tranches in 2023.”he said.
“The program cannot be limited to 50,000 participants”,The farm representative continued, stressing that “no farmer” should go without an environmental scheme payment for 2023.
Result-oriented policies “must be realistic and appropriate for all sectors,” argued IFA. These measures must include a “large list of options” and “allow for a simple assessment” that is easy to define. They must also be practical and achievable, the farming organization said.
“Consultation with farmers to design the program was minimal but from what we have seen it will generate a lot of frustration from farmers. With a program set to open this year, there simply isn’t enough detail available to help farmers prepare.”said Biggins.