The president of the Agricultural Consultants Association (ACA), Noel Feeney, is “fairly confident” that around 30,000 applications will be made in the first tranche of the Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES).
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) confirmed to Agriland that 13,537 ACRES applications had been submitted by last Friday morning (November, 18).
Budget 2023 provided funding for an initial intake of 30,000 farmers into the results-based agri-environmental scheme next year with further tranches expected to increase that figure to 50,000.
Applications for the €1.5 billion scheme can only be submitted on behalf of farmers by an approved agricultural advisor.
ACRES opened for applications on October 17 with an initial deadline of November 21, however, this was extended to midnight on Wednesday, December 7 to facilitate the workload facing advisors.
A farmer can only enter an application for one of the schemes approaches: ACRES General; or ACRES Co-operation.
The ACA is the representative body for private agricultural consultants and advisors in Ireland.
It currently has over 165 member offices employing around 280 agricultural and environmental professionals.
In September, the ACA announced that its members would create 130 new jobs over the coming year.
“Our members are working morning, noon and night and on Saturdays and Sundays. Those [application] figures will go up. I would expect there will be up and around 30,000 applications,” Noel Feeney, ACA president, told Agriland.
He said that there will be a “huge amount of applications” made on behalf of farmers in co-operation zones as those lands do not require to be walked by advisors until next year.
Feeney noted that advisors working on general applications where lands must be walked and photographed as part of the application process have been dealing with “horrendous” weather conditions over the past month.
“In fairness to our members, we’ve never shied away from work. Our members are putting in a heroic effort on behalf of farmers and getting these schemes up and running. The [application] figures at the end of the day will reflect that.
“It’s challenging and the message I keep repeating is that advisors are not going to get to all of their clients. Farmers will have to be patient and understand the situation that it’s just the way it has panned out for us all,” the ACA president said.
Organic Farming Scheme
Feeney said that advisors are also working on applications for the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS) which currently has a closing date of Friday, December 9.
However, the ACA president has appealed to the department and Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue to extend that deadline by two weeks.
“Farmers are still making decisions, because it is a huge decision [moving] from conventional farming to organic farming. The scheme is very attractive. A lot of farmers out there anyway are organic more or less but in name.
“So again, I would have confidence there will be a nice number of applications into the organic scheme, but a lot of farmers are still making their mind up,” Feeney said.
The ACA president said that the opening of the new Sheep Improvement Scheme (SIS) for applications today (Tuesday, November 22) will also create more work for advisors.
The €20 million scheme will replace the current Sheep Welfare Scheme (SWS) in 2023 under the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
The closing date for the submission of SIS applications is midnight on Monday, December 19.
“Advisors then have other stuff going on, there’s nitrates inspections, derogation inspections and there’s a huge amount of Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS) inspections going on around the country.
“So, it’s a challenging period for advisors,” Feeney said.