The absence of a standalone per-hectare payment under the new Agri Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) has been described as concerning and disappointing by the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA).
While farmers with designated land will get priority access to the agri-environment scheme provided they are willing to take on board an area-based action, the INHFA said the fact that there was no direct payment for high-nature-value ground was worrying.
“It is very disappointing that our flagship agri-environmental scheme will not provide direct support to the lands that have the highest habitat status and are part of the Natura 2000 network and designated as either special areas of conservation or special protected areas,” said INHFA president Vincent Roddy.
“To not support farmers on these lands at a time when all the talk is about tackling climate change concerns and biodiversity loss is something that should concern all farmers because this is about trust,” he maintained.
“If the State is not willing to deliver and support farmers on existing habitats where farming activity is restricted in order to protect the habitat, how can any farmer trust the State to deliver supports for farmers on climate change actions,” the INHFA president asked.
Roddy pointed out that farmers who work natura lands have their income opportunities severely reduced because of the management restrictions which are imposed due to designations.
These generally relate to the 38 activities requiring consent, which include basic works, such as fencing, fertiliser spreading and drainage.
He insisted that farmers working designated lands deserved a payment in recognition of the restrictions imposed as a result of the designation.
Such payments were delivered in former agri-environment schemes, Roddy pointed out.
The payment rate available under REPS for farmers with designated lands was €242/ha, AEOS paid €150/ha, while GLAS paid €79/ha.