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€1.5bn agri-environment scheme ACRES to target 50,000 farm families

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue T.D. has announced that the new national agri-environment scheme, proposed as part of Ireland’s draft CAP Strategic Plan (CSP), will be known as the Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (‘ACRES’). 

The announcement of the scheme name formed part of the update provided by the Minister on the proposed measure.  In providing the update, the Minister stressed that approval for Ireland’s draft CAP Strategic Plan (CSP) is still awaited from the EU Commission so all the proposals may be subject to change.

Attending the announcement, the Taoiseach, Michael Martin T.D. noted: “This €1.5bn scheme is the single biggest investment ever by an Irish Government, and meets a key commitment to design a flagship environmental scheme under the new CAP that is user friendly for farmers, and will deliver broader environmental and biodiversity benefits 

Climate change is a threat to all of us and to our way of life; and the agriculture sector has a crucial role to meet the challenge, while creating resilient farms for generations to come.

Some 50,000 farmers will be supported directly under this scheme to deliver measurable climate, biodiversity and water quality gains.”

Minister McConalogue added: “This is a really exciting day for farm families and those who are interested in biodiversity. ACRES will be a really exciting and farmer-friendly scheme that will help address biodiversity decline while delivering an important income support for up to 50,000 farm families. This is the highest amount of money ever committed by a Government to a single agri-environmental scheme so it is great news to see ACRES come this far.

“Farmers have been playing a significant role in the protection of the environment and enhancing biodiversity through their participation in agri-environment schemes down through the years and I was delighted to be able to extend their GLAS contracts during the CAP transitional period. The extension of contracts facilitated continuity in the provision of environmental benefits and, subject to the approval of the draft CAP Strategic Plan by the EU Commission, my Department is working towards commencement of ACRES contracts from 1st January 2023 to maintain such continuity.” 

It is proposed that, like GLAS, all farmers will have the opportunity to apply for ACRES. There are, however, two entry approaches in the proposed new scheme namely:

  • An ACRES General approach, available nationally (outside of the high priority geographical area as defined for the ACRES Co-operation approach below), which offers a range of measures (both targeted and general); and
  • An ACRES Co-operation approach, available to farmers in defined high priority geographical areas. Eight areas in the country have been defined by a cross departmental working group as having particular environmental characteristics and farmers in those areas may engage in the new AECM through cooperation project teams.
    All farmers who apply under the Basic Payment Scheme will have the opportunity to apply for ACRES with both approaches offering attractive rates of payments, with the approach for which they are eligible determined by the location of their land.

Martin Heydon, T.D. Minister of State with special responsibility for Research and Development, Farm Safety and New Market Development at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, added, “I know that farmer’s commitment to doing the right thing for the environment is clear, particularly considering the level of participation in previous agri environmental schemes. I am a firm believer in the power of one, where the greatest number of people possible will deliver substantive change by working together.

Governments commitment to farmers is being delivered through large-scale investments like this ACRES, where both approaches will include results based actions. This is a positive development for the environment and participants as the increased payments levels for higher scores will be an incentive for even better management of our environment.”

Minister McConalogue also announced that contracts have been awarded, following a public procurement process, for the management of the eight project areas proposed for the ACRES Co-operation approach. While approval of the draft CSP by the EU Commission is awaited, it was necessary to commence the process to put in place these management teams, to be known as ACRES Co-operation Project (CP) teams, so that the scheme can commence on 1 January 2023 as planned.

 

ACRES Co-operation builds on the learnings of the current successful European Innovation Partnership projects (EIPs) and, using a habitats-based approach, aims to contribute significantly to long-term environmental improvement. Farmers participating in ACRES Co-operation will be supported by one of these new CP teams, who will assist with implementation and development of the scheme at local level using the proven, collaborative approach trialled in the EIPs. 

The CP teams will now begin work developing Local Action Plans for their zones and engaging with farmers and advisers in their locality.  A map showing the locations of each of the zones and the associated Co-Operation Project teams who will manage them is set out below. 

The Government has previously committed to total funding for the CSP 2023-2027 of €9.83 billion. The total national funding and the level of co-financing are both significantly higher than applied under the previous CAP programme - over a seven-year period the funding is almost €1.2 billion higher, an increase of nearly 30%, over the 2014-2020 RDP.

Meanwhile, the IFA President Tim Cullinan said the new agri-environment scheme announced by the Government today was likely to be a bureaucratic nightmare. “While we don’t have full visibility on the exact conditions of the scheme, it looks very complicated and is likely to be tied up in red tape,” he said. “We have had various environment schemes over the years from REPS to AEOS to GLAS. Each version has put more costs on farmers without any income increase. This new scheme is extremely complicated. It will exclude many farmers and huge amounts of funding will leak to people running the Co-operation model, and to other consultants,” he said.

 

IFA Rural Development Chairman Michael Biggins said all farmers who apply in 2023 must be paid in the same year. “Not accepting all participants into the scheme in 2023 simply cannot happen. Agri-environment payments are a critically important part of farmers’ incomes.  It’s essential that all applicants under all tranches receive a payment in 2023 and the scheme cannot be limited to 50,000 participants.”

“I am calling on the Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue to ensure no farmer is without an environment scheme payment for 2023.  This can be done by either rolling over 12,000 GLAS 3 participants for 2023 or alternatively by paying an upfront payment in 2023 for Tranche 2 participants similar to the way REPS payments were in the past. If the scheme is to live up to expectations, payment rates for prescription-based measures must be improved upon when compared to the GLAS payment rate and the payment rate of €10,500 per farmer must be available to all farmers, not just those in Co-operative areas.”

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