The new ACRES here has been well over-subscribed. While the maximum payment is €10,000 the average payout is closer to €5,000 and is abolute necessary income for sectors 100% reliant on subsidies.

But these environmental enhancement schemes are not straightforward to devise and administer, and it’s not that surprising that there have been holdups. It’s instructive to look at what has been happening just across the Irish Sea in England.

Since Brexit, the UK government has been adamant that the EU’s direct payments will be scrapped and replaced with the same budget by an ACRES type of scheme – in other words, to use the cliché, “paying public money for public goods”.

By “public goods”, the British government doesn’t necessarily mean what’s visible to the general public, but rather what’s going to improve the range of plant, animal and insect life; but they are treading much more carefully regarding fertiliser and other inputs, as it is clear government policy to maintain food production.

The aim is to have 70% of farmers participating in the new scheme by 2028. But, talking to farmers and their advisers at the recent Oxford farming conference, it was clear that for many commercial farmers, they can only count on the new scheme coming to about one-third of what they received under the EU’s direct payment scheme, even though there is no maximum payment in the English system.

Significant gains

On the other hand, grass farmers not farming very intensively stand to gain significantly if they choose their options carefully. Firms of consultants are gearing up and devoting staff and time to what is becoming a revenue earning exercise for them.

So far in England (Scotland and Wales are to follow next year), 35,000 farmers have signed up; but up to now, payments have been slow and the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) acknowledges that roll-out has been slower than hoped.

As in our ACRES, there are multiple actions that can qualify for payment – 50 in the voluntary English scheme. The idea is not to restrict farmers, but to incentivise them with a target of 3% to 5% of land to be designated for environmental measures. DEFRA acknowledges that “we need profitable farming businesses; if we haven’t got good farming, it won’t work”.

So far, the budget from the treasury is underspent. With no direct CAP payments from Brussels, we can expect further policy adjustments to be made to entice more farmers into the various ACRES type schemes.

Here, the ACRES programme is functioning as a top-up with strict supervision from Brussels. The aims and some of the mechanisms may be the same, but the relative importance here is far less with the main BISS funding still in place.