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Farming organisations have said they are stunned and disappointed by the details of the Results-Based Environment Agri Pilot Programme (REAP) while others have described the pilot as a “damp squib”.
Speaking after a meeting with the Department of Agriculture last week, IFA rural development chairperson, Michael Biggins said the details of REAP are a “damp squib”.
He said that after the all the hype, the Department confirmed that the budget for the new scheme for 2021 will only be €10m, out of the €79m for new agri-environment and other farm support measures announced in the Budget.
Of this €79m, €56m was EU funding and €23m from the carbon tax.
“We know that €10m of the €79m has gone for the Straw Incorporation Measure. The Minister needs to clarify where the rest of the money has gone,” said Mr Biggins.
“The real concern for farmers is what this means for the Programme for Government commitment that €1.5bn from the carbon tax would be committed for a ‘REPS 2’ type scheme over the next 10 years. The clear commitment is that this money is to be on top of CAP Pillar II funds. This must be honoured in full,” he said.
On the scheme itself, Mr Biggins said that payment rates are far too low. The Minister has also conceded that there will be significant participation costs for farmers.
“Applications are limited to ten per planner which is totally unacceptable. Planners should not have to choose which ten farmers are put forward for the scheme. Overall, it’s a major disappointment,” he said.
IFA hill committee chairperson, Flor McCarthy added, “it’s an absolute disgrace that commonage lands and lands containing heather are excluded from the Pilot Programme”.
“The exclusion of all land featuring heather fundamentally excludes the majority of designated lands, which is totally unacceptable to IFA. All hills, both commonage and privately owned land, should be provided for in the scheme and designated lands must be given priority access to the scheme,” he said.
The officers of the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) agreed saying they were stunned by the proposals in REAP to exclude commonages and land containing heather from the scheme.
INHFA president, Colm O’Donnell, said it is “shocking that an agri-environmental programme supported by the Irish State and the European Union, ignores the most valuable lands in the country with a high percentage of these lands forming part of the Natura 2000 network.
“In making the call to exclude these lands, it does”, he added, “increase our suspicion that the habitats and biodiversity is of secondary importance to the carbon asset that many believe and hope these lands can deliver. Similar to what is happening in the CAP negotiations under GAEC 2 where prescribed actions could make peat soils ineligible, this pilot has also identified large areas of peat soils for exclusion.”
He noted, as this is a pilot it will be instrumental in forming the basis for the next agri-environmental scheme in the new CAP and questioned “if commonage and hill land where heather dominates will even get access to any such scheme.”
Mr O'Donnell was also critical of the proposed budget for REAP.
ICMSA representatives were also unhappy with the proposed budget and structure of the scheme.
Speaking following a meeting with Department the chairperson of ICMSA’s farm and rural affairs committee, Denis Drennan said that farmers will be hugely disappointed adding it is “very far cry” from the version that had been spun and hyped by official sources.
Mr Drennan said that with a budget of €10m only approximately 2,200 farmers will be able to participate in the scheme with a maximum payment of approximately €5,000 per participant.
“Yet again farmers find themselves in a position where they are willing to invest in environmental initiatives, but our Government and the EU have failed to put up the necessary funding despite launching multiple environmental strategies at this stage. The old adage is that actions speak louder than words and it’s absolutely obvious that there is an unwillingness to invest in environmental public good - despite all the rhetoric. This disconnect between aspirations and investment simply has to be addressed”, said Mr Drennan.
While acknowledging that some measures may be of relevance to some commercial farmers, he said the overwhelming disappointment is the limited options available for all farmers
“The good work that farmers are already doing is not being acknowledged and, given the budget, the national impact of the scheme will be very limited,” he added.