Hedgerow improvement, better beef efficiency schemes and a milk recording scheme are some of a number of proposals tabled by Macra for eco-schemes in the next CAP.

Macra president Thomas Duffy told the Irish Farmers Journal that eco-schemes must be inclusive and accessible, progressive, results-based and complementary.

“Macra was the first farm organisation to propose some of the basic principles on eco-schemes which need to be implemented.

“Farmers are very concerned about this. At the moment, the negotiations are going on as to whether this will be 20% or 30% but our primary focus was on ensuring that these eco-schemes are things which are suitable for progressive young farmers to be able to implement on their farms,” he said.

Following consultation with Macra members, he said Macra wanted the schemes to be accessible to a farmer who is a very extensive upland farmer, or a farmer who is very intensively stocked and in a nitrates derogation.

Scheme proposals

Macra has proposed several potential schemes, identifying an aim, implementation and potential ineligible farms under each measure

Habitat protection on designated lands

The aim of this scheme is to increase the relative habitat quality of lands designated under Natura 2000.

In recognition of the practices limited and measures taken by farmers to ensure low intensity farming, farms with greater than 10% designated land will automatically qualify for eco-schemes.

Farmers without designated land would be ineligible for the scheme.

Hedgerow protection and improvement

This scheme would increase the length and habitat value of farmland hedgerows.

The farmer or appointed adviser would identify all suitable hedgerows on the LPIS mapping system.

Farmers would undertake training to improve the habitat quality along with practices such as coppicing, trimming or planting needed to achieve this.

A farm will commit to no more than 60% of non-boundary hedgerows to be cut annually.

Areas of upland or moorland may not have the suitable features to take part.

Watercourse buffer zones

Buffer zones or riparian margins to be established along identified watercourses on farm. Farmers to establish 2m to 2.5m buffer zone depending on the slope of the field.

A minimum fencing distance for a buffer zone of 1.5m will apply where a line of permanent vegetation is maintained. All watercourses to be fenced off from livestock.

Farmers in a nitrates derogation may be excluded as they already have to buffer 1.5m from the bank.

Tillage field margins

The aim of this scheme is to increase the availability of flowering plants and permanent vegetation on tillage farms.

Closest boundary

Farmers would keep a minimum of 2m from the closest boundary during planting and 3m where the field exceeds 10ha.

A variety of flowering plant may be sown to reduce this to 1.5m or 2m in fields exceeding 10ha at planting, if left undisturbed during harvest.

Milk recording scheme

The aim of this scheme is to reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per kilo of milk produced. Farms which record milk production six times or more will qualify for this eco-scheme.

Milk recording may be by way of DIY, contracted service or collected via automated milking system.

Improved beef efficiency schemes

This scheme would increase the genetic potential liveweight gain to reduce GHG per kilo of beef produced.

Farmers would commit to weigh 70% or greater of all beef livestock which enter the farm annually.

The scheme would only be available on suitable animals such as beef calves greater than six weeks old.

Soil conservation scheme

Farms with permanent pasture could apply and would see them plant cover crops on 30% of the area under spring crops to be used for either grazing or as green manure.