Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue has said that he is confident that the extra places made available for participants in the Agri Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) won’t compound the issue of delayed payments experienced by current participants.

This week, the minister confirmed that all 9,000 farmers who applied for tranche 2 of ACRES will be accepted.

It was originally thought that tranche 2 would only be able to facilitate 4,000 farmers. The announcement from the minister brings to 55,000 the number of farmers that will take part in the scheme across both its tranches.

Tranche 1 was also oversubscribed, with 46,000 farmers applying for only 30,000 places. The minister was able to secure sufficient funding to cater for the additional 16,000 places in that tranche.

However, the unexpected volume of participants put further strain on the department capacity to process farmer payments, which was already under pressure as a result of the change-over to the 2023-2027 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and a raft of new scheme rules.

This led to the minister being forced to issue an interim payment for tranche 1 participants who were expecting their payments in February.

Minister McConalogue said that, despite the issues to-date in making payments, things will proceed more smoothly for the 9,000 in tranche 2.

Speaking at the launch of the Farming for Water European Innovation Partnership (EIP) yesterday (Thursday, March 8), the minister said: “Last year was the first year of the new cap, so every single scheme was new, even the single farm payment.

“Whenever you get into the second year, you’re running the second year of something you did the year before and the systems are all built the year before, and it’s a rinse a repeat.

“Still, there are challenges obviously, and it’s still a logistical effort, but you’re doing the same thing you’ve already done once,” the minister said, in response to a question from Agriland.

He added: “Last year, things went pretty smoothly, considering it was the first year of a CAP… The one scheme that has been a challenge is ACRES, because it’s more complex. That has proven challenging… We had hoped to have everyone paid, but that’s not been possible.

But according to the minister, staff at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine are confident that any issues in the department’s capacity to process and make payments will be resolved in time to provide tranche 1 ACRES participants with their planned payments in June (which will be adjusted depending on how much they are due after receiving the interim payment).

“And then this additional 9,000 now will be working off the same system that we’ve already operated.

“We’ve had very intense negotiations with Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe in getting approval to accept all these… I got funding for 4,000 in the budget, and then I went back at it again asking for more and that’s never an easy thing to get across the line, but anyway we kept at it, and we got it,” Minister McConalogue said.