The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, and the Minister of State for land use and biodiversity, Pippa Hackett, today (Monday, December 13) launched a €5 million pilot Farm Environmental Study (FES).

The pilot will establish a framework to generate a database of baseline habitat and biodiversity data at farm-level.

This will provide the scope for an inventory of farm habitats and biodiversity present, and a baseline for future targeting of agri-environmental schemes and measures, according to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM).

Farm Environmental Study

The ‘Pilot Stage’ of FES will focus on the rollout of farm level habitat surveys on approximately 6,500 farms.

The pilot FES measure will provide the farmer with important information on the biodiversity and environmental assets on his/her own farm.

This new level of biodiversity data will provide the farmer with greater awareness of the biodiversity potential on their lands and help them tailor their management practices to help farm with nature in mind.

Minister McConalogue said: “I am really excited about bringing forward this new pilot FES. I believe it is the launch pad for a whole new and untapped potential for Irish agriculture.

“Having a baseline knowledge of the biodiversity resources we have on our farms is essential going forward. In order to tackle the challenges of the future, we first must know the potential of the present and the FES is central to this new era we are facing into.

“Since the initial announcement of this pilot project rollout, my department has contracted the operation and delivery of this important environmental initiative,” he added.

Coordination of Farm Environmental Study

The Agricultural Consultants Association (ACA) will coordinate the rollout of the survey effort.

The minister continued: “The ACA [has] agricultural advisors all over the country and they have a wealth of experience in providing agricultural advisory services to farmers, and will bring this to the pilot measure in addition to providing ecological perspectives to the surveys.”

Minister Hackett also welcomed the pilot measure and stated: “We are living in the middle of a biodiversity crisis, and with agriculture being the largest land use in our country, establishing a database of the biodiversity features and habitats present at the farm level must be a priority.

“The delivery of FES will allow great strides to be made in tailoring farm-specific management practices with benefits to both the farmer and the environment.

“Farmers are the caretakers of biodiversity in agriculture, and this farm-scale approach will educate and empower farmers, building on their knowledge of their own land in order to maximize delivery of environmental and economic benefits at a national scale,” she added.

President of ACA, Tom Canning added: “ACA and its members are delighted to be part of this important pilot study, which will be valuable for the future of the agricultural sector.

“ACA [is] confident that there are significant environmental assets currently in Ireland, and once recorded, will greatly assist towards our commitments to both our national and EU responsibilities under climate change and related policies.”

The FES advisor training module will begin shortly, and the measure will open to farmers in Q1 of 2022. Farm surveys will be carried out over the spring and summer 2022.

Incentive for farmers

The DAFM has said that the pilot FES measure will provide the farmer with an inventory of habitats, biodiversity and environmental information about his/her own farm.

This information will be presented to the farmer as part of the knowledge transfer element in order to educate and empower the farmer to farm in a way that is sensitive to nature on the individual farm.

Upskilling of farm advisors

Upskilling of farm advisors will be a key element in the delivery of FES, according to DAFM.

The environmental training programme for advisors will ensure that capacity is built for greater level of environmental ambition required in other future agri-environment climate measure (AECM) schemes.

Advisors will receive habitat and biodiversity training as well as updated IT and mapping skills which will be transferrable to other schemes.

Policy makers

The pilot FES measure will begin the process of building the baseline farm level habitat and biodiversity database and inform the future national roll out of FES.

The environmental parameters will assist with targeting management practices / measures and advice to support national and EU policy such as Common Agriculture Policy (CAP); Climate Action Plan; Farm to Fork; Water Framework and Nitrates Directives; as well as the Biodiversity Strategy.

How will the programme operate?

The pilot measure will be managed and delivered by the ACA in conjunction with DAFM.

DAFM will administer the farmer application process and rank and selection requirements for the programme through the online resource.

The ACA will coordinate and manage the advisor training and oversee field survey and data collation processes.

Due to seasonal constraint of the filed survey work involved, farm surveys will likely begin Q2 of 2022, according to DAFM. Following survey completions and data collation, it is expected the results and outputs of the pilot survey will be presented to the department in Q4 of 2022.