The establishment deadline for the 2024 winter bird food crop in the Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) has been extended to 31 May 2024. The news comes following notification circulated by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to Farm Advisory System (FAS) advisers on Friday.

The Department states the decision has been taken due to prolonged wet weather in recent months generating difficult ground conditions and limiting the window available to carry out land operations in many part of the country. The deadline will return to the normal deadline of 15 May from 2025 onwards.

Action requirements

For winter bird food plots the minimum area that can be sown is 0.25ha while the maximum is 3ha.

Applicants selecting this measure need to be aware that a 2m uncultivated / unsown zone between the edge of the crop and the field boundary (i.e. hedgerow, stone wall/bank, stream/drain etc) must be left. This 2m uncultivated strip is not required where a mandatory buffer zone already exists for applicable watercourses under GAEC 4.

Strip requirements

For winter bird food strips the requirement is to establish a 6m to 8m wide winter bird food strip along a field boundary. Only one margin width can be used across the holding and to be eligible for this measure the minimum continuous length is 10m and the maximum is 2,500m.

Where necessary the area must be protected from livestock with a fence that is fit for purpose. Where no fence is required then the scheme specifications state that the boundary of the winter bird food must be clearly identified with visible posts / markers if no natural boundary exists.

The following mix must be used:

• At least one or more of these cereals: spring oats/ triticale/wheat/barley

• At least two or more of the following: linseed, oil-seed rape, phacelia, fodder radish, mustard, spring vetch, lucerne, chicory or birds-foot trefoil

Additional requirements

? Once the crop is sown, pesticides are not permitted. The exception to this ruling is that only the spot treatment of noxious and invasive weeds with herbicides is allowed. Pre sowing weed control is permitted.

? Fertiliser can be applied up to a maximum of half the fertiliser rate for nitrogen and phosphorus on spring oats as described in Statutory Instrument Number 113 of 2022.

? Harvesting of the crop is not permitted and must remain in situ until 01 March of the following year.