There is a very serious opportunity cost to being in an agri-environment scheme, Irish Cattle & Sheep Farmers' Association (ICSA) rural development chair Tim Farrell has warned.

“For example, not being able to cut hay while the sun shines in June when participating in the traditional hay meadow measure in GLAS,” Farrell said.

“But the opportunity costs are much more than that. Farmers who get into a new agri-environment scheme are investing a lot of time in measures and bureaucracy that could be much better rewarded by off-farm work.”

Totally disingenuous

The ICSA suggests that many farmers will be better off to see how they can benefit from dairying, either by entering dairying themselves, contract rearing or long-term leasing for tax-free income.

“The Government and EU are being totally disingenuous in speaking about the EU green deal or our own green credentials if they don’t put in place a really attractive agri-environment scheme that delivers three times as much benefit as the current GLAS,” Farrell continued.

“However, the expenditure proposal regarding the EU recovery instrument funding of €190m shows where priorities lie.

“It is proposed that more than half of this money is allocated to TAMS, while they talk about a mediocre level of payment for agri-environment.”

Adequate reward

Farrell said he is getting worried that the Department of Agriculture does not share his ambition for an agri-environment scheme that will provide a real option for farmers.

“We are hearing that the pilot agri-environment scheme will be no better than GLAS in terms of the payment, but that it could be much more challenging to comply with,” Farrell said.

“If we are serious about biodiversity, climate change and other environmental goals, then farmers who deliver public goods must be adequately rewarded.”