The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has claimed that the new agri-environment scheme, unveiled by the government today (Tuesday, June 21), is likely to be a ‘bureaucratic nightmare’.

The €1.5 billion scheme has officially been named as the Agri Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES).

It will replace the Green, Low-Carbon Agri Environmental Scheme (GLAS) when the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) begins in 2023.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) has said that it is proposed that “all farmers” will have the opportunity to apply for ACRES.

The targeted number of participants for the scheme, which is still requires EU Commission approval, is 50,000.

Image-source-AgriLand-Tim-Cullinan-IFA-speaking ifa, IFA
IFA president Tim Cullinan

“While we don’t have full visibility on the exact conditions of the scheme, it looks very complicated and is likely to be tied up in red tape,” IFA president, Tim Cullinan, said.

“This is typical of how the minister [for agriculture, food and the marine Charlie McConalogue] and his department are operating now. Big announcements with headline figures before the detail is properly discussed with farmers,” he said.

“We have had various environment schemes over the years from Rural Environmental Protection Scheme (REPS), to Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS), to GLAS. Each version has put more costs on farmers without any income increase.

“This new scheme is extremely complicated. It will exclude many farmers and huge amounts of funding will leak to people running the co-operation model, and to other consultants,” Cullinan claimed.

The IFA Rural Development chair said that all farmers who apply for ARCES in 2023 must be paid in the same year.

“Not accepting all participants into the scheme in 2023 simply cannot happen. Agri-environment payments are a critically important part of farmers’ incomes,” Michael Biggins said.

“It’s essential that all applicants under all tranches receive a payment in 2023 and the scheme cannot be limited to 50,000 participants,” he said.

The IFA chair called on Minister Charlie McConalogue to ensure that no farmer is left without an environment scheme payment for 2023.

“This can be done by either rolling over 12,000 GLAS 3 participants for 2023 or alternatively by paying an upfront payment in 2023 for Tranche 2 participants, similar to the way REPS payments were in the past,” Biggins explained.

He added that payment rates for prescription-based measures must be improved and the rate of €10,500 must be available to all farmers, not just those in co-operative areas.

Biggins said that results-based measures need to be “realistic and suitable for all sectors” and should include a “large list of options” with easily-defined scoring.

The IFA chair raised concerns that not enough details about ARCES had been made available to help farmers prepare.