Agri-environment pilot ‘designed to fail’ – ICMSA

One of the country’s leading farm organisations has claimed that the agri-environment pilot scheme proposed by the government is “designed to fail”.

The comments from the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) come after the organisation was in consultation with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on the scheme.

ICMSA president Pat McCormack argued that, if the scheme goes ahead in its proposed form, then it will have “failed in its promise of delivering a usable and effective agri-environment scheme”.

The 2021 pilot scheme is designed as a precursor to another agri-environment scheme that is set to open when the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) finally begins in 2023.

Since the scheme was first mooted during government formation talks, it has on occasion – including by some in government – been described as similar in purpose and intent to the old Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS).

According to McCormack, the pilot is “no way related or comparable to the previous REPS scheme…and the real concern is that participating farmers will be faced with a scheme involving high-administration costs for little or no return”.

“The reality is that farmers were sold a promise of a REPS-type scheme and there was an enthusiastic response from farmers in the expectation of a practical agri-environment scheme that worked for both the environment and for the farmers,” he said.

What is now proposed is a hugely disappointing scheme that is likely to be ‘admin-heavy’ with the resultant costs placed on farmers and actual returns for farmers that would be well below expectations. It’s not what was promised and it just won’t work.

The ICMSA president called on Minister Charlie McConalogue to “immediately intervene” and to put a scheme model in place based on the old REPS.

“That scheme should be administratively simple and provide options that will deliver environmental improvements to all categories of farmers. Fundamentally, it has to recognise the contributions of farmers to environmental improvement with a level of payment that makes the scheme a viable option for those farmers,” McCormack argued.

He concluded: “The model proposed now does not do that and is therefore set-up to fail. That can’t do and we need the minister to direct the changes that will make the scheme effective and attractive and so meet the need for a viable and dynamic agri-environmental scheme.”