The Association of Farm and Forestry Contractors of Ireland (FCI) has called on the Department of Agriculture to grant agricultural contractors access to TAMS funding to purchase low-emission slurry spreading (LESS) equipment.

The FCI has said that funds paid out for slurry equipment under the scheme - some €55m it claims - has delivered poor value for taxpayers’ money, as some of its contractors have reported farmer clients being unable to operate the equipment bought through TAMS.

“There is significant evidence from our members that many of these machines are not being worked and will not be worked,” stated FCI chief executive Michael Moroney.

“We believe that farm and forestry contractors must be supported to purchase this appropriate equipment, as proposed in the nitrates action programme in its first stage of consultation.

“It is clearly more environmentally efficient for several farmers to utilise the services and equipment of a single farm contractor, rather than each individual farmer owning and utilising their own equipment,” he said.

'Overnight' contractors

At present, farmers can avail of TAMS grant aid of up to 60% to buy equipment before effectively becoming an agricultural contractor “overnight”, the FCI has also claimed.

“By purchasing a new tractor or machine grant-aided and supported by the TAMS scheme, overnight, a farmer can become a farm contractor, with no registration or affiliation requirement.

“And in doing so, [the farmer can] undermine the cost structure of existing farm contractors who are providing local, skilled employment with proper insurance cover,” Moroney went on.

The FCI has said that it has engaged with the Department to set out the criteria that operators would be expected to meet before being listed on a register of recognised agricultural contractors.

GLAS-like measure

The committee also heard FCI’s suggestion that farmers could be incentivised to use contractors’ LESS equipment if payments were available for farmers to claim based on the volume of slurry spread using low emission-spreading methods.

The FCI’s representatives compared such moves to essentially allowing all farmers avail of the LESS measure of the GLAS agri-environmental scheme.

“FCI believes that the current GLAS grant aid system should be expanded to all farmers to use low emission systems used by an FCI-registered contractor and if all LESS systems were aided based on FCI contractor invoices – not just to existing GLAS farmers – the cost to the Government would be significantly less than the cost of the machinery grants of over €55m,” he went on.

Slurry facilities on tillage farms

TAMS funding should also be accessible for tillage farmers wishing to construct slurry storage facilities on-farm, the FCI added.

According to the chief executive, this funding would allow tillage farmers “to store large volumes of liquid slurry exported from expanded – and future expanding – dairy, beef and pig farms that have limited land resources and face slurry storage challenges”.

The transport of excess slurry to these tillage facilities would help highly-stocked dairy and beef farmers to alleviate slurry storage issues over the closed period, he said.

FCI added that precision technologies exist that could be fitted to tanks for the purposes of linking in with a Department of Agriculture system that would monitor the transport of animal slurries between holdings.