Eco schemes will form a major part of direct payments under the new CAP which starts in 2023 and will run until 2027.

The Department of Agriculture is proposing to ringfence 25% of the current Basic Payment Scheme fund, or some €296.5m per annum, to finance the new regime.

Proposed details of how eco schemes will work have been released on an ad-hoc basis in recent months. However, the latest draft of Ireland’s draft Strategic Plan 2023-2027, provides the first comprehensive insight into the Department’s vision for eco schemes.

The Department is assuming that 85% of eligible farmers will participate – ie 15% of farmers will forego payment and therefore not be in a position to recoup money that they have contributed to the fund.

Under such a scenario, the planned payment rate per hectare increases from the €64/ha figure, which has been used widespread previously, to €74/ha per annum.

If only 50% of farmers participate, then the payment will be maxed out at the highest rate possible of €126/ha per annum.

Farmers will have to undertake to complete two measures or qualifying criteria on an annual basis to receive full payment.

Completion of one measure will receive half payment. The measures have been a divisive discussion point during Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue’s CAP mart roadshow.

Minister McConalogue has given a commitment that he will review the current listing with a view of adding more measures. It will be interesting in this regard to see what is included in the final document submitted for European Commission approval before year end.

The current consultation document provides details on each eco scheme measure, with farmers expected to opt in annually and participate in two measures.

A proposed requirement in the next CAP, under Good Agriculture and Environment Conditions (GAEC) 8, sets out a proposal for all farmers to have at least 4% of lands devoted to non-productive areas and features.

This 4% requirement is already present in the current CAP but it only applies to tillage farmers.

The eco-schemes measure will reward farmers for going beyond this target, with a requirement to allocate at least 7% of their land to such features.

This measure is expected to have the greatest level of farmer participation with 78,000 farmers forecast by the Department to participate.

At an average farm size of 32ha and 7% of the farm being a non-productive area/landscape feature, it will see 174,720ha being classified under this term.

Landscape features which will qualify include hedgerows, scrub, groves of trees, etc, while fallow land will also be eligible, meaning farmers can opt to fence off areas to hit these targets. The Irish Farmers Journal understands that lands designated as fallow or non-productive will have to remain in this manner for the duration of the five-year CAP plan.

Land farmed under the extensive livestock production measure is expected to cover 1,664,000ha, or 42% of almost 4m hectares, which the Department expects to fall under eco-scheme measures. This figure is based on 52,000 farmers participating and an average farm size of 32ha.

There are three elements to the measure, with two of these closely aligned to the principles of the Areas of Natural Constraint whereby farmers must carry a minimum stocking rate.

Farmers must:

  • Maintain an overall stocking rate of less than or equal to 95kg of organic nitrogen per hectare for the calendar year. This will be based on the previous year’s stocking rate to allow payment in current year. The document warns that further administrative and on-the-spot checks may be carried out in the current year for aspects such as checking if the maintenance of minimum stocking rate requirements was satisfied.
  • Applicants must maintain at least an annual average of 0.15 livestock units (LUs) per hectare calculated over the 12 months of the calendar year.
  • Applicants must own, possess, hold and maintain for at least seven consecutive months of the year, the livestock required to maintain the minimum stocking level, ie 0.15LU/ha.
  • Farmers opting for this measure must maintain their chemical nitrogen usage at a maximum of 73kg/ha. The Department has not detailed precisely how many farmers it expects to participate in this measure.

    Instead, it has grouped the expected level of participation with Measure 5 – use of a GPS-controlled fertiliser spreader to apply chemical fertilisers.

    Combined, the expectation is that 45,000 farmers will participate and with an average farm size taken as 32ha, the prediction is for 1,440,000ha to be farmed under these two measures.

    It is acknowledged that some farmers may opt to participate in both but, for the purposes of the consultation document, participation in each measure has been counted once.

    The measure is open to all farmers who are permitted to apply chemical nitrogen fertiliser – ie organic farmers are not eligible to apply and, as it stands, they are not eligible for two measures of the five, meaning they only have three to select from.

    Extensive livestock production is expected to cover the largest area of land farmed under eco schemes.

    There appears to be a firm focus under the next CAP on planting trees. This is also a measure under the proposed new flagship agri-environment plan.

    To qualify for eco schemes, farmers will be required to plant at least three trees per hectare in the year it is selected.

    For example, a farmer with 50ha will be required to plant at least 150 trees per annum or at least 750 trees if he/she opts to select the measure each year.

    Trees can be sown in a tree line or hedgerow-type arrangement as long as sufficient space is provided.

    The document highlights that each tree will cover 4m2. There are expected to be 20,000 farmers participating annually with the total area of trees planted equivalent to 768ha. As the name suggests, only native tree options will be eligible.

    Trees must be maintained for the duration of the CAP programme and are liable to inspection to demonstrate such in subsequent years.

    Trees planted in any particular year will not count towards the proposed Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC) 8 requirements in the year of application (it proposes minimum of 4% non-productive area required across all Irish farms).

    The draft document says this measure is targeted towards “more intensive farmers such as nitrates derogation farmers, intensive arable farmers and more intensive beef and sheep farmers”.

    Participating farmers must apply all chemical fertiliser used with a GPS-controlled fertiliser spreader, as opposed to applying fertiliser with the aid of GPS technology.

    The target participation rates are outlined under Measure 3 (left).

    Farmers can avail of contractors where they possess a GPS-controlled fertiliser spreader to spread their fertiliser.

    As already mentioned, the document states “the eco-scheme practices associated with limiting chemical nitrogen or the use of GPS-controlled fertiliser spreaders will not be open to organic farmers as they are precluded from spreading chemical fertilisers in the first instance due to their organic status”.

    We will take a detailed view next week on how the proposed CAP Strategic Plan will affect entitlements.