There is set to be enough applications to fill the Results Based Environmental Agri-Pilot (REAP) twice over due to high demand among farmers.

The Irish Farmers Journal understands that more than 3,700 applications have already been submitted ahead of the scheme’s 10 May deadline.

Almost 900 of those landed in a 24-hour period since the Bank Holiday.

There is only room for approximately 2,000 farmers in the €10m pilot scheme.

The oversubscription means a ranking and selection process will be required.

Application will be divided into two separate groups, based on their stocking level – those stocked above or below 140kg N/ha.

The two groups will not be in direct competition for places.

Farmers within each group will be ranked against others in their group based on their water status, proportion of Natura land, and proportion of ANC lands.

Places will be divided across the two groups based on the number of applications received in each. So, if 70% of applications were from those stocked below 140kg N/ha, this group will receive 70% of the places

Green training

Meanwhile, two out of three farmers believe more training would help improve the environment, biodiversity and water quality on Irish farms. The results were part of the Department of Agriculture’s public consultation on the new Results-Based Environment Agri-Pilot (REAP), which received over 1,500 responses.

One in three thought further regulation would result in improvements, while almost 40% thought further industry involvement would help.

Of those who took part in the consultation, 80% were farmers, with 49% part-time farmers and 32% full-time farmers.

The remainder came from agricultural advisers, members of NGOs and people employed in the agri-food sector.

Half of respondents were beef farmers, followed by sheep farmers (14%), dairy farmers (11%) and tillage farmers (2.5%). Two-thirds had previously taken part in an agri-environmental scheme, with REPS being the most popular.

The majority of farmers who had taken part in an agri-environmental scheme felt it was beneficial.

The main barriers to taking part in future schemes were identified as a fear of incurring penalties, a lack of clarity on how payments are decided, a lack of understanding of scheme requirements and a lack of environmental understanding.

Just over half of respondents had previously participated in agri-environment training, with the vast majority saying it helped them recognise and understand environmental issues on their farm.

However, 70% of those surveyed felt there was limited awareness among Irish farmers of the value of environmental, biodiversity, and ecosystems on their farms.

Changing farmer attitudes and incentivising them to incorporate environmental measures were identified as the most effective ways to achieve improvements on farms.

On REAP, almost all respondents said the maintenance of existing farm environmental features should be prioritised, with a smaller percentage calling for the creation of new features.

These feelings are reflected in the pilot scheme, with the majority of funds being channelled to enhancing existing features and some money allocated to creating new ones.

Biodiversity loss, water quality and soil health were identified as the most important issues the pilot should address, with climate mitigation and air quality ranked much lower.