Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture Pippa Hackett launched a €1.2m pilot scheme for farming on peatlands at the Clara Bog visitor centre in Offaly last Thursday.
The FarmPEAT scheme is a European Innovation Partnership (EIP) funded by the Department of Agriculture, which will seek to improve biodiversity, water quality and carbon retention on farmland bordering raised bogs in the midlands.
The FarmPEAT project will offer places to 42 farmers this week, as it announced on Thursday. Extra places had been created by the Department after 121 applications were received for an original allocation of 30 places.
Payment rates have not been set by the project co-ordinators
Funds allocated to farmers participating in the scheme will be awarded on a results basis. Rather than the participating farmers being paid to carry out actions, they will be paid for improvements to farm environmental metrics measured over the two years of the project.
Payment rates have not been set by the project co-ordinators, as the nature of results-based pilot schemes makes projections of payment rates difficult until data has been collected from farm assessments.
Farmers will also face no penalties should the score of their farms decrease over the course of the scheme.
It is not action based, so we cannot set the payment rates straight away
It has been confirmed that farmers enrolled in the FarmPEAT project will receive a minimum payment of €800, as long as they meet the scheme’s only requirement, which will be the attendance of a paid training day.
“It is not action based, so we cannot set the payment rates straight away. We have to look at the results before we know what payments are due to you,” the project manager of the scheme, Caroline Lalor, told farmers at the launch.
Eight peatland sites were chosen in counties Offaly, Roscommon, Westmeath and Kildare to pilot the scheme, with farmers selected on criteria relating to their proximity to raised bogs, as well as each farm’s covering of peaty soils.
These sites were chosen as the transitional farmland between raised bogs and mineral soils in the midlands, as they have been identified by researchers to be a particular area of concern with regard to farm greenhouse gas emissions.
“Nowadays in the midlands, this transition zone is used a lot for agriculture. We know that the agricultural land on peat soils is actually a hot spot for greenhouse gas emissions,” Lalor said.
Farmers in the scheme have been drawn from the dairy, beef and tillage sectors. Some of the dairy farmers accepted into the scheme currently operate relatively intensive systems, with some sites including dairy enterprises in nitrates derogation.
The derogation farmers commented that while the payment amount would be relatively insignificant given the size of the monthly milk cheques, they saw environmental action as an area of increasing concern.
The consensus among beef farmers at the event was that they would be content to trial any measure that may increase their scores over the pilot, other than those which required reductions in stocking rates.
The scheme will not have any compulsory measures. Farmers will, however, be advised on actions that are likely to improve their farms’ scores.
“We do not have a suite of measures or actions set yet, that is what the pilot year is all about,” the project manager explained.
Hedgerow management and the maintenance of buffer strips are likely to be examples of advice given to the scheme’s tillage farmers
Lalor then went on to outline the extensive engagement that will take place between farmers, advisers and the project team, to allow farmers to adopt management practices that will drive up their scores.
Some of the measures that may be advised to improve a farmer’s score could include slowing the movement of water through open drains, reducing the access of stock to peat soils in wet weather conditions, or reducing stocking rates.
Hedgerow management and the maintenance of buffer strips are likely to be examples of advice given to the scheme’s tillage farmers.
Some farmers who received an acceptance offer for the scheme have voiced concerns about different aspects of the project.
Farmers have been advised that payment rates will be similar to those provided under other EIP schemes, however, it is unknown what the maximum or average payments will be in year one.
Some of the farmers who spoke to the Irish Farmers Journal at the launch had also received correspondence from the Department stating that they were successful in applying to enter the REAP scheme.
These farmers saw FarmPEAT as a riskier scheme option, given that more details have been provided by the Department on REAP.
It will be unknown how many of the 42 farmers selected will opt to not enter the scheme based on these concerns until later in the year.