Farmers need the government’s promised new agri-environmental pilot scheme to be a “meaningful scheme – with a base payment of €10,000”, according to the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA).

Commenting on this, IFA president Tim Cullinan said the “REPS pilot results-based scheme” – proposed by the Department of Agriculture, based on the “much-hyped commitment” in the Programme for Government – needs to deliver “real money” to farmers.

The president led a delegation including National Rural Development Committee chairman Michael Biggins and National Hill Committee chairman Flor McCarthy to meet Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue about the new scheme this morning (Wednesday, March 3).

“Despite all the hype, no budget has yet been confirmed for this pilot scheme,” he said.

Drawing comparisons with the original Rural Environment Protection Scheme [REPS] that was first introduced in the 90s will look like complete spin if the minister doesn’t deliver a serious scheme.

Cullinan said that the experience with results-based schemes to date has been positive.

However, he noted that, in general, farmers participating in results-based schemes are also in the Green Low-Carbon Agri-environment Scheme (GLAS) which gives them a base payment.

“There are several conditions beyond a farmer’s control such as weather that can have an impact on the results achieved which can have a negative effect on the payments farmers receive,” he warned.

What farmers need is a meaningful scheme, with a base payment of €10,000. If the government wants to live up to its promises, it must deliver this.

Meanwhile, rural development chairman Biggins said the Programme for Government stated there was to be €1.5 billion over 10 years from carbon tax to fund a “REPS-2 type scheme” – and this money to be in addition to CAP Pillar II funds.

This money must be delivered as part of a meaningful scheme for farmers, he stressed.

Noting that the IFA’s submission identifies over 20 different measures that could be included in the new pilot scheme, the chairman said the scheme must be opened immediately to deliver a meaningful payment in 2021.

This submission suggests that a menu option should be made available to all farmers in the scheme, “giving them the choice of what best suits their farm, while maximising their payment and yielding an environmental return in line with the scheme objectives”, Biggins added.

Finally, hill farming chair McCarthy said for over 20 years, Natura 2000 lands (SACs, SPAs, NHAs) and commonage lands have been given priority entry into agri-environment schemes.

“This partially recognises the restrictions imposed on these lands and they must be given priority entry and higher payment rates in the pilot scheme and all future agri-environment schemes,” he said.