The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA) believes that additional funding for the Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) may not be sufficient to meet demand from farmers.
As part of Budget 2024, announced yesterday (Tuesday, October 10), funding for the agri-environmental scheme increased by €40 million. This will bring the total allocation for the scheme to €200 million for 2024.
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue noted that there was “unprecedented demand” for places in Tranche 1 of ACRES, resulting in 46,000 farmers being accepted into the scheme.
“This will allow us to deliver on the government’s commitment to have 50,000 farmers participating in the flagship environmental programme under Ireland’s 2023-2027 CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) plan,” he said.
The minister announced that Tranche 2 of ACRES will open for applications in the “next few weeks”.
INHFA president Vincent Roddy said that the additional funding for ACRES in Budget 2024 “will accommodate an additional 4,000 farmers” to join the scheme.
However, the farm organisation believes this could be 15,000 places short of “where we need to be”.
“On this basis it is vital that the government find additional new money if the uptake exceeds 50,000 to ensure all farmers are supported through this scheme,” he said.
Meanwhile, the INHFA president welcomed the budget announcement of an additional €8/ewe to be paid through the Sheep Improvement Scheme (SIS).
“Additional support for this sector is something we have consistently pushed the minister on and while we welcome the announcement we must recognise that this can only be seen as a starting point.
“On this basis there is an urgent need to look again at the Brexit Adjustment Reserve (BAR) and other similar sources with a view to delivering an additional payment of €30/ewe that can be made available for all sheep farmers,” he said.
Aside from the “long-awaited and much-needed support” for the sheep sector, Roddy said the overwhelming view of Budget 2024 is “one of disappointment”.
“For suckler farmers, while additional state funding is being provided, this will replace support from the Brexit Adjustment Reserve (BAR), so for these farmers there won’t be any monetary gain.
“Here, similar to the sheep sector, it is vital that the government seek additional funding to support an extensive suckler sector, that is vital to our rural economy and critical in delivering on the challenges around biodiversity and climate change,” he said.
The INHFA president said that it is also “critical” that more clarity is provided on the new €14 billion Infrastructure, Climate and Nature Fund.
“As we face radical changes around land use driven by the Nature Restoration Law and proposals to increase the area of land under forestry there is a real concern that this fund could be used to take large areas of land out of agricultural use,” Roddy said.