The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) has said that the new Agri Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) scheme, which was formally named today (Tuesday, June 21), will exclude commercial farmers.

The new €1.5 billion agri-environment scheme to kick in from next year, had, up to now, been referred to as the Agri-Environment Climate Measure (AECM).

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

President of ICMSA, Pat McCormack, said that ACRES will be “nothing like the previous” Rural Environmental Protection Scheme (REPS).

McCormack noted that “no amount of soundbites” was going to hide that reality and claimed that all farmers will be disappointed by the scheme when finally approved by the European Commission.

Commercial farmers left out

“Commercial farmers interested in adopting environmental measures and progressing their individual sustainability would be particularly disappointed,” McCormack said.

“We think that the government is making a very significant strategic error in deliberately shutting-out commercial farming from these environmental schemes.

“But even that aside, ACRES represents a regression from REPS. The reality is that we previously had 66,000 farmers in REPS and we are now down to 50,000 farmers – with 20,000 of those ringfenced to certain parts of the country,” he added.

The ICMSA said that a new scheme should have been expanded in both membership numbers and enhanced payments.

“We think that around 66,000 farmers was certainly attainable and against the kind of rocketing farm input costs that everyone knows about, the payments should have been increased proportionally,” McCormack added.

“But it’s this government policy of setting environmental progress in opposition to commercial farming – and specifically commercial dairy farming – that is going to emerge as the major mistake and it’s as avoidable as it is strategic.”