Teagasc environmental economist Mary Ryan outlined the results of a survey of some 1,000 farmers carried out by the state agency in 2012 at this week’s National Agri-Environment Conference in Tullamore.

The survey found that 47 per cent of farmers in REPS/AEOS schemes were involved in cattle rearing, while only 19 per cent of the farmers in the schemes were in dairy. Of those farmers who were never in an agri-environmental scheme 39 per cent were in cattle rearing and 21 per cent were dairy farmers.

The survey found there was no major difference between farmer involvement in agri-environmental schemes and soil type. Farm size was found to be a determinant on whether farmers were in an agri-environmental scheme or not. It also found that farmers with farms between 50 to 150 ha were more likely to be in the schemes than much smaller or much larger farms.

The reasons given by farmers in the survey as to why they did not take part in the schemes were wide ranging. Some 28 per cent of farmers said they would have to make too many changes to comply. Up to 25 per cent said there was too many forms and hassle involved and 17 per cent said the plan would cost too much. Only one per cent of farmers said they had no interest in the environment.

Figures from the survey showed the entry into farm schemes over time showed some interesting results. Of note was dairy farmers who initially were slow to enter into the schemes, but since 1994 have increased their participation dramatically. Indeed the results of the survey also show that participation has increased by farmers in all the farm systems especially between the years 2005 and 2010.

The survey found that managing hedgerows was by far the most popular option farmers took in the agri-environmental schemes. Protection of watercourses and tree planting were the next most popular options. On the benefits of the schemes the survey found, that 88 per cent of farmers in the schemes thought the country side looked better. But interestingly 95 per cent of farmers who never took part in an agri-environmental scheme also thought the countryside looks better. In addition, the survey found that for 95 per cent of farmers in the schemes it was a valuable source of income.

On the drawbacks of the schemes 64 per cent of farmers in the schemes said that limitations of stocking and nutrient management was important. 86 per cent of farmer’s involved said there was too many forms and hassle.

On supports for the schemes 92 per cent of those involved in the schemes said training is necessary and 95 per cent said planner assistance is important. Only 39 per cent said they were competent to apply for the AEOS scheme.

In her conclusion, Ryan said the survey gave a better idea of what farmers think of agri-environment scheme. She said it showed farmers had strong environmental awareness and the felt benefits of scheme very positive. The survey also underlined the importance of training and support, she added.