Payment rates are far too low in the proposed Results-Based Environment Agri Pilot Programme (REAP), said IFA rural development chairman Michael Biggins after meetings on the scheme between the Department of Agriculture and farmers.
He said there will also be significant participation costs for farmers.
“Applications are limited to 10 per planner, which is totally unacceptable. Planners should not have to choose which 10 farmers are put forward for the scheme.
“Overall, it’s a major disappointment,” said Mr Biggins. He said the budget for the new scheme for 2021 will only be €10m.
IFA hill committee chairman Flor McCarthy said commonage lands and lands containing heather are excluded from the pilot programme. He said this would be , “an absolute disgrace”. “The exclusion of all land featuring heather fundamentally excludes the majority of designated lands, which is totally unacceptable to IFA. All hills, both commonage and privately owned land, should be provided for in the scheme, and designated lands must be given priority access to the scheme.”
Macra na Feirme welcomed features such as increased hectare allowances for partnerships, “an important opportunity for young farmers to stake their claim environmentally”.
Macra national president Thomas Duffy said: “While this pilot project is a positive step for farmers, the largest downside is that not enough farmers will reap the rewards of this pilot project”.
“A simple and transparent scoring system, as in EIPs, should allow for quick uptake, provided it is designed appropriately.
“Farmers must have more control over their own land and outcomes from it rather than following prescribed actions.
“Including farms over 140kg of organic nitrogen is a positive step forward to demonstrate highly stocked farms can be environmentally positive,” said Mr Duffy.
But Macra raised concerns over rules for management of grass margins and the number of species eligible for payment in multi-species reseeding.
The seven non-grass species recommended is higher than in many commercial mixes and would pose significant issues with management and persistence, according to Macra.
And mechanical cutting of field margins has led to significant issues for farmers, once-off grazing is preferred.
“The biggest concern for farmers will be the cost of training and advisory services absorbing more of the income that should be going to farmers.
“This needs to be addressed by the Department of Agriculture, with indicative pricing for costs, as the absence of this has been a mistake for other schemes,” stated Mr Duffy.