At the end of the best agricultural year many of us can remember, it’s easy to be vindicated about ACRES’ mistakes. And to be fair, it’s not that hard to find a few.
We will now have to do more to earn less than GLAS. REPS was the first environmental program I joined and I was making over £5,000 a year 25 years ago when so much money gave me real purchasing power.
Now we seem to have gotten back to the notion that the environment is terribly valuable until someone actually has to pay for it.
A few years ago we were led to believe that the new system would be result-oriented and reward farmers for real improvements in the environment.
At some point along the way, this ideal was abandoned and we’re straight back to the crudest cash in and cash out accounting. No payment will be made without proof of costs incurred or lost income.
For example, I have seeded field grass borders in GLAS and want to keep them when I go to ACRES. Seven years ago I didn’t really know what they were for, but they drew me in because they were low maintenance and paid pretty well.
I was very impressed with the amount of plants and wildlife they have made their home.
The original GLAS specification was to seed a mix of mainly cocksfoot and timothy, and these species have seeded this soil seven more times. Even so, ACRES rules state that I must have invoices for new seed purchases to count towards those margins if I want to keep them in the new system.
This waste of money and resources suggests only a passing acquaintance with the principles of a results-oriented system. Why not pay me if I have the required kind and not pay me if I don’t?
I have visited several farms in Co Clare participating in the multi-award winning Burren Life initiative which has been extraordinarily successful in restoring and protecting a very vulnerable landscape through the enthusiastic commitment of both the farmers and dedicated staff.
It has been adopted across Europe as a template for results-based systems, but is on the brink of collapse as it is incompatible with the subservient double-entry bookkeeping compliance that defines the new system. This really shouldn’t happen.
Still, it has to be recognized that the new system has improved some measures and there are signs that farmers’ suggestions are not being ignored all the time.
Instead of setting high rates for a small number of species, cover crops can now use low rates for a nearly infinite variety of plants, provided the total amount of seed makes a full rate.
From 2024, catch crops will also be permitted on fields with a field edge. Better late than never.
Applying for ACRES involves significant costs and will not be reimbursed if the application fails.
It looked like only farms that scored the highest points in the ranking system were likely to be successful and others were reluctant to apply. Now many of the establishments with the higher scores have decided it’s not worth joining.
If grain prices stayed safely at 2022 levels, I probably wouldn’t apply either, but that seems unlikely and costs will fall at a much slower rate.
So my decision to go with ACRES will depend on how easily I can integrate its measures into my existing practices and see if I can beat the system by getting paid more than it costs me to be a part of. I keep you updated.
Andrew Bergin is a tiller near Athy, Co. Kildare
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/tillage/andrew-bergin-acres-is-defined-by-servile-conformity-to-double-entry-book-keeping-42172810.html Andrew Bergin: ACRES is defined by servile compliance to double-entry bookkeeping