There needs to be flexibility to make the new Agri Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) work for a lot of farmers, IFA rural development chair Michael Biggins has said.

He said the payment rates for the low-input permanent pasture action have been “seriously curtailed”.

“We have got to ensure that anybody who wants to get in gets in. The Department has said there are 50,000 places. Between GLAS and REAP, there’s about 60,000 people. Because it is tranche-based, we could have farmers who have been in environmental schemes for 25 years having a gap year. Farmers in low-income sectors go into these schemes, they form a huge part of their family farm income and they cannot afford a gap year,” he said.

The president of the ICMSA, Pat McCormack, said that much of the most recent reservations being expressed about the new CAP focused on ACRES and specifically on its exclusionary design and inadequate payments.

“We do think a real opportunity was missed here by the Government and it wasn’t for the lack of ICMSA trying to convince them,” he said.

“The point here is that if we are to make the overall sectoral transition that this CAP is meant to be the engine for, then we will have to make it attractive for commercial family farms to engage with.

“The ICMSA pointed out on numerous occasions that, for instance, giving more organic options for farms that were already organic was a wasted effort.

“Even within that very narrow and marginal context, ACRES is actually a step backwards from, say, REPS. That scheme had 66,000 farmer participants, whereas ACRES will have 50,000 – with 20,000 of those ring-fenced to specific parts of the State. If we assume an average payment of €4,000 per annum, is that going to be the game-changer that some seem to assume?

“We doubt it and we very specifically doubt in when inflation will almost certainly run over 10% for the first two years of the scheme,” he said.