The Irish government has shared more details of what Taoiseach, Michael Martin TD, called the ‘biggest single investment ever’ by the Irish government when it presented an update of the Agricultural Climate Rural Environment Plan (‘ACRES’) this morning.
ACRES, which is part of a draft Northern Ireland strategic plan, will see €1.5 billion directed into the country’s agri-food sector. It is hoped that the initiative will enter into force at the beginning of next year, although the draft proposal still requires approval from the European Commission.
“This €1.5 billion scheme is the largest single investment ever made by an Irish government, and fulfills a key commitment to design a pioneering environmental scheme under the new Common Agricultural Policy that is user-friendly for farmers, and will provide environmental benefits and broader ecological diversity,”Martin said. “Climate change is a threat to all of us and our way of life; the agriculture sector has a critical role to play in meeting the challenge, while creating resilient farms for future generations.”
Under the proposal, Martin revealed that about 50,000 farmers would be “supported evidence” of providing “measurable” gains for climate, biodiversity and water quality.
“This is the largest amount of money that has ever been allocated by a government to a single agro-environmental scheme, so it’s good to see ACRES come this far,”Ireland’s Agriculture, Food and Marine Minister Charlie McConnalog TD added.
“Farmers have an important role to play”
Irish lawmakers hope the initiative will provide income support to farmers while tackling issues such as biodiversity degradation and environmental protection.
“Farmers play an important role in protecting the environment and promoting biodiversity through their participation in agro-ecology schemes over the years,”McConnalog noted.
All farmers will have the opportunity to apply for ACRES funding through two pathways of entry, a nationwide “common approach” and a “cooperation approach” available to farmers in “high priority geographic areas.”
Martin Haydon, TD’s secretary of state in charge of research and development, farm safety and new market development in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Sea, said both approaches would focus on “results-based actions” with payments linked to the registry system.
“This is a positive development for the environment and the participants as the increased levels of payments for higher grades will be an incentive to better manage our environment,”anticipation.
“I know the commitment of farmers to do the right thing for the environment is clear, especially given the level of participation in previous agro-ecological schemes. I am a firm believer in the power of the individual, where as many people as possible will make fundamental change by working together.”
The government previously committed total funding for the CAP Strategic Plan 2023-2027 in the amount of €9.83 billion. Total national funding and the level of co-financing are both significantly higher than what was applied under the previous CAP – over seven years, funding was nearly €1.2 billion higher, an increase of nearly 30% over 2014-2020 funding.
“It is constrained by routine.”
Despite promises of increased government support, Ireland’s agriculture authority IFA remains skeptical about the new scheme which it has warned is “potentially a bureaucratic nightmare”.
“Although we do not have a complete view of the exact circumstances of the scheme, it appears to be very complex and likely to be constrained by red tape,”FIFA President Tim Cullinan said.
Cullinan complained that the move was “typical” of the approach currently being taken by McConnalog and the Department of Agriculture: “Big announcements with key numbers before details are properly discussed with farmers.”
Do environmental schemes place unfair burdens on farmers?
Reflecting on the state of Irish agricultural policy, the IFA chief said the “various” environmental schemes that have come and gone in the country all have one thing in common: “Each release has imposed more costs on farmers without any increase in income.”
Cullinan does not expect funding under ACRES to actually reach farmers on the ground. “It will alienate many farmers and leak huge amounts of funding to the people who run the collaboration model, and to other consultants,”anticipation.
So what do farmers need for environmental schemes to support real change?
All farmers who apply in 2023 should be paid in the same year, Michael Biggins, president of IFA Rural Development, said.
“Not all participants being accepted into the scheme in 2023 simply cannot happen. Agro-environmental payments are a very important part of farmers’ income. It is imperative that all applicants under all tranches receive a payment in 2023,”He said.
“The program cannot be limited to 50,000 participants,”The agriculture representative continued, stressing that “no farmer” should be without payment of an environmental scheme for 2023.
The International Food and Agriculture Federation has argued that results-based measures “must be realistic and appropriate for all sectors”. These measures should include a “large list of options” and “providing simple scores” that are easily identifiable. Agricultural organization continued, it must also be practical and achievable.
“Consultation with farmers on the scheme design has been minimal, but from what we have seen, it will cause great frustration among farmers. For the scheme due to open this year, there are not enough details available to help farmers prepare,”Biggins said.