The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) has expressed disappointment with the capacity and payment rates that will be offered under the upcoming Agri Climate Rural Environmental Scheme (ACRES).

Speaking on the latest episode of Farmland, Eddie Punch, general secretary of the ICSA said that those in the agricultural industry are at the forefront of biodiversity and green efforts and deserve better.

“We would have expected the CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] reform to deliver an environmental scheme that puts real money in the pockets of real farmers that are trying to make a real difference,” he said.

The organisation is concerned that many farmers will be left out of the scheme, due to its capacity of 50,000, 20,000 of which are ringfenced for farmers operating in designated ‘cooperation project zones‘.

Watch the full interview with Eddie Punch by clicking the video below.

Punch said that the scheme, which will replace the current Green Low-carbon Agri-environmental Scheme (GLAS), will see many applicants competing for the ‘general’ payment.

He said:

“The majority of farmers are chasing the ‘basic’ ACRES scheme but there’s only 30,000 places in that. So we’re very concerned in ICSA, that a lot of farmers won’t get into this scheme and even if they do, the max payment is just over €7,000.”

Comparing ACRES to the former Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS), Punch pointed out that REPS had an original capacity of 60,000, and that when it was halted, 62,000 farmers were operating under it.

The ICSA is also concerned about the payments that will be offered, given rising input and labour costs and inflation rates. Punch outlined that these environmental schemes may be costly to participants.

“Everyone out there is well aware that €7,000 in the current environment is very small money when you look at the way costs have gone in farming.

“So we think that the money is looking very weak and yet there isn’t enough places in the scheme,” he explained.

Describing the scheme as “a complete experiment”, Punch said that while everyone hopes that ACRES will be a success, many are still doubtful that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) “really knows whether this will work or not”.

ACRES must be competitive

Punch also asked how competitive the ACRES programme will be in comparison to other options that many farmers are now considering, such as off-farm income streams.

“There are any number of jobs out there and farmers are skilled people. Many of them have other qualifications, so people really have to look now at the value of their time.  

“Farmers have to make a living the same as everyone else and I have a big concern that the CAP reform in its totality has lost sight of the fact that a euro today is not the same as a euro two years ago.”

Punch added that he feels politicians in Ireland and across the EU must focus on achieving a balance between creating vibrant, rural communities achieving food and energy security and managing environmental goals.