The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has revealed proposals for five different eco-scheme actions for the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The eco-scheme is to be implemented through targeting of “relevant agricultural practices and will provide the opportunity for as many farmers as possible to take up the most appropriate actions on their farm,” according to the department.

The proposed actions were shown to stakeholders on the CAP Consultative Committee at a meeting today (Thursday, September 23).

The department proposes that a farmer would have to select two of the five actions to maximise payment At the moment, it is envisaged that payments will work out at around €75/ha, payable on all hectares, including those without entitlements.

The five proposed actions are:

  • Non-productive areas and landscapes – an increased proportion of land would be devoted to non-productive areas and features above the baseline required in the CAP deal;
  • Extensive livestock production – farmers will have to keep within a specified maximum overall stocking rate for the calendar year;
  • Limiting chemical nitrogen input – farmers will have to keep within a specified chemical nitrogen usage limit for the calendar year;
  • Planting native trees – farmers will have to plant a minimum number of native trees per eligible hectare;
  • Use of GPS-controlled fertiliser spreading – Fertiliser to be spread with GPS-controlled spreaders.

On the first action listed above in relation to non-productive features, it is proposed that farmers would go beyond the requirements specified in the Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAECs), specifically GAEC 9, as set out in the CAP agreement.

Under this GAEC, a minimum share of 4% of arable land at farm level must be devoted to non-productive areas and features.

The GAEC already makes provision for farmers to go beyond this requirement. If a farmer commits to devote at least 7% of their arable land to non-productive areas or features, then the minimum limit of compliance with this GAEC is reduced to 3%.

The current expectation is that if a farmer selects only one of these five actions, or selects two but only complies with one, they will receive a half-rate payment.

The plan is that the eco-scheme will be open to all active farmers in the country, or groups of active farmers.

Eligible beneficiaries will be required to submit an application for the Basic Income Support for Sustainability (BISS) – the replacement for the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) – in respect of each year of participation in the eco-scheme.

Eligible beneficiaries will have to opt in or out on an annual basis. Proposed support rates/financial allocation support is based on an annual payment for all eligible hectares covered by the commitments, i.e. farmers will receive payment on all eligible hectares on their holding.

Payments will be made on additional costs incurred and income foregone, in line with EU rules.

The department expects that some 130,000 eligible farmers may participate in the scheme. The payments per hectare will be impacted by expected participation and the expected uptake of various actions.

Based on a ringfencing for eco-schemes of 25% of the direct payments ceiling, the annual estimated financial allocation for this eco-scheme would be approximately €297 million per year, amounting to a total estimate financial allocation of around €1.485 billion for the period of the new CAP (2023-2027).

Eco-schemes are funded out of the national Pillar I envelope for each EU member state. The schemes are mandatory for member states to design and implement, but optional for farmers to join.

However, entering eco-schemes will be the only way for farmers to achieve similar levels of direct payments as they have done in the current and previous CAPs.