Scoring Irish farms based on the volume of semi-natural vegetation and landscape features present has been suggested as Ireland’s flagship eco-scheme by a group of scientists and researchers.
The proposals have been made as part of an EU-wide report on how the next CAP can improve biodiversity.
Around 25% of Ireland’s direct payment budget, some €300m, is to be ring-fenced for eco-schemes. Eco-schemes will be voluntary for farmers, but those who opt out will not secure a full direct payment.
Under the researchers’ proposals, farms that meet a threshold of 10% for habitat areas would qualify for a full eco-scheme payment.
Multiple surveys and studies show the majority of Irish farms would already meet a 5% requirement
Such a system would require a minimum cross-compliance standard of 5% semi-natural features with no fertiliser or pesticide application to apply across all farms. This is not guaranteed in the next CAP, with a push from some negotiators to limit this requirement to tillage farms only.
Multiple surveys and studies show the majority of Irish farms would already meet a 5% requirement.
The researchers suggest that extensively grazed semi-natural grasslands as well as landscape features be considered in meeting the 10% figure under a points based eco-scheme.
Where a farm does not meet the required points for a full payment, a list of additional actions could be offered
This would resolve grievances that the land eligibility system does not reward many of these areas at present.
Where a farm does not meet the required points for a full payment, a list of additional actions could be offered. These would include native tree planting, hedgerow planting, and riparian buffer strips.
A longer-term results-based agri-environmental scheme, which would attract a further payment, would focus on improving the quality of these areas rather than just increasing the quantity.
The system would require landscape features and semi-natural areas to be mapped at a farm-scale level, work that is currently underway and due for completion later this year. However, another system which assesses the quality of habitats would also be required.
The researchers believe a points-based system would also solve potential problems with unspent eco-scheme funds if there is not full take-up among farmers. Leftover funds could be divided up among farmers who do take part as an “eco-bonus payment”.
Ireland’s section of the report was compiled by Yvonne Buckley (Trinity College Dublin), John Finn (Teagasc), Alan Matthews (Trinity College Dublin), James Moran (Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology) and Jane Stout (Trinity College Dublin).