The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA) has joined the chorus of criticism of the announcement by the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine (DAFM) that will see farmers in the eight Agri Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) co-operation areas not paid until February 2024.

INHFA president Vincent Roddy stated: “This will be a hammer-blow to the 18,600 farmers who were expecting to see an ACRES payment this month.”

With regard to the farmers in ACRES General, Roddy said: “There was better news here with proposals to commence payments to these farmers on December 18.”

However Roddy is concerned that no commitment was given on the number of farmers that would be paid and expressed the view that “many of these farmers could also miss out on any ACRES payment this year”.

Delayed ACRES payments

The INHFA said that the delayed payment for the 18,600 farmers in ACRES Co-operation stems from the very complex habitat scorecards and a verification process by the DAFM.

The organisation said that the concerns it raised with DAFM during the development of ACRES have “come to pass”.

“During these discussions, we expressly stated our preference for measured-based schemes similar to GLAS [Green Low-carbon Agri-environment Scheme] and REPS [Rural Environmental Protection Scheme],” Roddy said.

“Unfortunately, despite outlining these concerns, we have ended up with this results-based model that was always going to be difficult to roll out to large numbers.”

Roddy said that farmers who applied now find themselves anxiously looking to February, “but with no exact payment date or no idea of how much they will get paid as they still haven’t been told what habitat score each parcel plot has got”.

This information deficit has he continued “plagued the scheme since its inception with farmers encouraged to sign up to a scheme without confirmation on how much they would get.”

In relation to the delay in payments, Roddy said that the DAFM needs to look again at the system again.

“An indicative habitat score of eight, through a ring-fenced process was used when first assessing commonages, and while the DAFM ruled this out at our meeting, it is an option that needs to be further explored as it could pave a way for payment on all CP lands.

“All options must be explored in order to find a way to get payments out to farmers this year,” Roddy concluded.