The next agricultural environmental scheme – dubbed the “new REPS” by numerous commentators – has got to be index linked to 1994, the year of the original Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS), according to the arguments of one farmer representative group.

The Individual Farmers of Ireland is the group that organised the tractor demonstration protests in Dublin in December 2019 and January 2020, taking to the streets of the capital over beef prices at the time.

Claiming that “farmers are being squeezed harder and harder from all sides”, group spokesperson James Geoghegan pointed to the aging farmer profile, stating:

“Our CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] payments are being eroded and now our new REPS scheme is heading to be another disaster.

When the original REPS started in 1994 it came out at £5,000 a year for five years; a new 100hp tractor was £25,000, a slatted shed for 100 cattle was £28,000 and the old age pension was £67.

“Now 27 years later a new REPS Scheme is being launched. The 100hp tractor is gone to €80,000, the shed for 100 cattle is €100,000 and the pension is gone up to €248.

“For the REPS to be of any value it will have to match these figures bringing it up to €20,000.”

Highlighting that the original REPS scheme was a major success and “kept a whole generation of farmers farming”, Geoghegan claimed:

“Unless we get a major new REPS scheme our whole agriculture business will be in serious trouble. When a farm shuts its gate a lot of local villages suffer the loss of these farmers’ spending power.”

Claiming that every €1 paid out under the old REPS “turned into €4 for the local economy”, the Individual Farmers of Ireland spokesperson argued “with the current Covid-19 disaster a new high-value scheme will be a major boost to the economy”.

We as a farmers group are calling on all farm organisations to reject any low-value scheme; it has to be index linked back to 1994. Why should farmers, who are being asked to solve a lot of our environment issues, do so on the same rate of pay as we got in 1994?

“No other sector of society is being asked to live off 1994 wages and we refuse to do so either.

“The government is hitting farmers very unfairly with carbon tax on our agri diesel, the fuel we have to use to do our work. We have no option but to start our tractors every day and use fuel.

“So, if Minister [for Agriculture Charlie] McConalogue is serious when he says that protecting farm incomes and the environment are his priorities, then he needs a proper REPS scheme with proper payment rates. Not a scheme with the same pay as 27 years ago,” Geoghegan concluded.