Agri-environment pilot ‘must recognise existing good practice’

The new agri-environment pilot scheme set to open this year “needs to ensure that existing good practice is recognised and paid on”, one farm organisation has argued.

Representatives of the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA) have met with Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue and his officials, with the INHFA outlining its priorities for the scheme.

Colm O’Donnell, the association’s president, remarked after the meeting that this new pilot scheme “significantly differed to previous schemes, with an emphasis on the delivery of outcomes, as opposed to the previous measures-based schemes”.

With this change in focus, it is vital that existing good practices are rewarded in equal measure to any improvements.

“50m of an existing hedgerow is sequestering just as much carbon as 50m of a newly-planted hedgerow, and must be recognised and paid at the same rate,” O’Donnell argued.

The results and outcomes from this scheme will be used to design a new agri-environment scheme from 2023 onwards, when the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is expected to come into effect.

“For that reason, vital farming systems which were left behind in the current Green, Low-Carbon, Agri-Environment Scheme [GLAS] – such as privately owned hill land and lowland farmers on heavy soils who didn’t have a priority measure – are included,” the INHFA president urged.

It is also vital that farmers on commonage lands are included, which is why we were very disappointed to see no reference to commonage farming in the department’s current discussion document on this pilot.

In its meeting with the minister, the INHFA delegation also raised the issues of the scheme’s budget and the number of farmers who will get access to it.

“Clarity on these is vital, as this will determine payment rates, including the maximum any farmer can expect to get,” O’Donnell noted.

The INHFA is currently engaging with its members before finalising its submission to the department on the pilot scheme.