2024 is the second year of the new Eco Scheme, which was introduced under the CAP strategic plan.

The scheme was well received by farmers, with 119,255 or about 93% of the 128,000-plus applications under the Basic Income Support for Sustainability (BISS) opting to participate.

The payment rate was in the region of €67/ha, with farmers paid on all eligible hectares.

A high percentage of farmers availed of AP1 space for nature and satisfied their two Eco Scheme requirements by means of possessing greater than 10% space for nature.

It is likely that a similar number of farmers will participate via this option in 2024, but it is still important to ensure that your farm is in a position to do so.

Application process

Applications under the Eco Scheme are submitted via the BISS portal. The system automatically assumes farmers are opting to participate in the Eco Scheme in 2024 based on preferences selected in 2023.

Applicants must confirm participation with the particular measure and the Department is advising farmers availing of the space for nature option in particular to ensure they satisfy the requirements.

The eight Eco Scheme measures, including details of schemes that can be doubled up to satisfy two measures, are outlined here.

1 - space for nature

This measure concerns the area of landscape features (eg hedgerows, stone walls, drains, trees, etc) and those classified as beneficial features delivering an environmental good (eg scrub, woodland, rock, trees, habitats).

Under conditionality, farmers must devote 4% of their lands to delivering a biodiversity benefit under good agricultural and environmental condition (GAEC) 8 as part of conditionality.

Where a farmer goes beyond this figure and has at least 7% of his/her holding classified as space for nature, they will satisfy one Eco Scheme measure.

If this figure is greater than 10%, then it will satisfy two measures and secure full payment. Over 90% of farmers will satisfy the Eco Scheme's requirement of new CAP with this measure.

2 - extensive livestock production

This measure promotes traditional grassland farming practices at extensive animal stocking rates. To qualify for one Eco Scheme measure, the stocking rate over the previous year must be between a minimum 0.1LU/ha and a maximum of 1.4LU/ha.

This is the second Eco Scheme where there is an option for farmers to double up and satisfy two Eco Scheme measures where they satisfy a stocking rate of less than 1.2LU/ha.

Stock must be maintained for a seven-month consecutive period, similar to requirements in the Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC). The stocking rate will be based on the previous year’s levels with the exception of year one, where 2023 figures can be used.

3 - limiting chemical nitrogen

This measure was expanded from the original draft to allow more moderate and intensive farmers to limit their chemical nitrogen use to a lower level.

The permitted level of chemical nitrogen is based on a farm’s stocking rate in the previous calendar year and these details are outlined in Table 1.

Each farmer will be presented with their chemical nitrogen limit in the year of the Eco Scheme application based on their stocking rate in the previous year.

Fertiliser usage will be monitored via the Department of Agriculture’s new fertiliser register in quarter four of the relevant years along with possible spot checks.

4 - planting of native trees

To qualify, the farmer must plant at least three native trees or 1m of native hedgerow per eligible hectare for every year this measure is used as a qualifying measure in their Eco Scheme participation.

This is the second double-up option. Where a farmer elects to plant twice the commitment - ie six trees per eligible hectare or two metres of hedgerow per eligible hectare - this will count as two measures and qualify a farmer for the full payment.

The measure must be completed in the year of selection unless availability issues dominate and the Department sanctions otherwise.

5 - GPS-controlled spreaders or sprayers

This measure will promote the use of precision machinery for application of chemical fertiliser (compound or liquid) and plant protection products via spraying, thereby reducing inputs while also reducing the environmental and climate impact.

The measure requires that 100% of such products are applied using GPS-controlled devices rather than the vehicle using GPS guidance, which is far more commonly used.

Agri contractors may offer the same facility for spraying and/or fertiliser spreading and, in such cases, contractor invoices will need to tally with volumes purchased.

6 - soil sampling and liming

Soil sampling and, where appropriate, liming on all eligible hectares is aimed at improving soil fertility. This action can be chosen once every three years, in line with Teagasc guidance regarding the appropriate intervals between soil samples being taken.

All eligible hectares requiring lime must be limed in that year. This measure is not applicable to farmers who must take samples for other requirements, eg nitrates derogation.

7 - enhanced crop diversification

Where a farmer has a crop diversification requirement, they must plant a break crop as their second or third crop.

At least 20% of the arable area of the holding in the year of the commitment must be planted to a prescribed break crop of either oilseed rape, oats, peas or beans or a combination of one or more of these crops.

It is possible that further break crop options could be added in future years, if warranted.

8 - multispecies swards

/ Donal O' Leary

This requires that a farmer would plant a recognised multispecies sward (MSS) on at least 7% of eligible hectares entered on their BISS application in the year this is selected.

It will suffice as one Eco Scheme measure and if a farmer selected it in another year then they would need to plant an additional 7% of their holding.

For example, a farmer with 50ha of eligible area would be required to plant 3.5ha each year the option is selected. There are no details as yet regarding the prescribed seed mixture that would need to be used.