The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) has called on Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue to provide additional funding to ensure all those looking to join the Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) can be accommodated.
Association vice-president John Joe Fitzgerald outlined his concerns over farmers getting access to ACRES and detailed how the limited number of places available will lead to major disappointment for many farmers.
"There are 46,000 farmers in ACRES and based on the current budget, it’s unlikely that we will see this pass 50,000 participants.
"This is a concern we have raised on numerous occasions, while also calling for an increased budget to accommodate the estimated 70,000 farmers that we believe will join if afforded the opportunity," he said.
It is, continued Fitzgerald, absolutely essential that the Minister goes back to the cabinet and demands that the promises made in the programme for government to support all farmers that are willing to deliver for the environment are realised through a properly funded agri-environment scheme.
"We could be looking at spring of next year before all farmers receive a payment. The INHFA will continue to push the Minister and his staff to ensure the earliest possible pay-out of monies," he said.
He also reminded farmers of the training requirement attached to the scheme.
While many farmers have, he said, already completed their ACRES training, he is encouraging any farmer who hasn’t to contact their farm adviser and prioritise this as it is understood that no payment will be made to farmers in 2024 who haven’t completed this training.
For young farmers and new entrants currently looking to join tranche two of ACRES, Fitzgerald outlined how access to the scheme could be problematic for some of these farmers.
This, he stressed, “is an issue we have highlighted and pushed on and while the requirement to have a BPS application submitted in 2021 has been moved forward to 2022, there is still a significant danger that many young farmers and new entrants may not qualify”.
"This is another reason for seeking additional funding which can ensure the opening of a third tranche next year, which could then accommodate these farmers.”
In providing further clarity around these cases, he detailed how the concern around the BPS application dates is an issue specifically for farmers with new herd or flock numbers and is not an issue for farmers who have taken over a herd or flock number where a BPS application was made by someone, as these farmers are ineligible to apply.