The founders of the Burren program will resign in protest at proposed changes to the hugely successful agri-environmental programme.
Rendan Dunford and Sharon Parr have been the driving force behind the Burren program and its predecessor, BurrenLIFE, for nearly 20 years. Her company, HNV Services, was awarded a contract in May this year to manage an expanded program that will also include the Aran Islands and East Galway.
However, the pair said at a meeting of Burren farmers last week that details of the new BurrenAran ACRES program had rendered their positions untenable.
A number of issues were highlighted in the new ACRES program, including a lack of incentives for farmers to manage their land sustainably, a cap on what farmers can earn, a lack of flexibility, and a lack of consultation between the Department of Agriculture and local stakeholders.
The Burren IFA Chairman Michael Davoren this week described BurrenAran ACRES as a “welfare scheme” rather than an environmental scheme and said it would undo progress made in the Burren over the past few decades.
To ensure the entire program does not collapse, HNV Services will fulfill its contract to manage the new program beginning January 1, 2023, but its founding members will not be involved.
“The details of the new program became known over the course of the summer. We expected something different, something more in line with the Burren program,” Dunford said Independent Farming.
“Once the details came out, we felt we had no choice but to step down. me and sharon [Parr] I’ve been there from the start, we put a lot into it and I guess there comes a point where you have to go.
“Our colleagues [in HNV] will run the program. It is important that there is someone running it, otherwise farmers will not be paid, but we have concerns about the structures and details of the proposed program. Me and Sharon felt we couldn’t accept what was being proposed.”
The Burren Program takes a results-based approach to promoting sustainable agriculture in the Burren. Each field on each participating farm is individually inspected and assessed throughout the year and payments to farmers are based on this assessment.
“ACRES is not an environmental program, it is a welfare program. It makes you money if you do very little and it does very little for the environment,” said Burren IFA’s Michael Davoren.
“With the Burren program everything was measurable, everyone knew what they had to do and what they would get if they did it. As a farmer, I was challenged to do better every year. If I didn’t do the work, I wasn’t paid. Under this new [ACRES] program, you get a small fee for doing very little. That’s it in a nutshell.
“We had a meeting in Kilfenora last week and there was outrage at what is going on. To be fair to our politicians, they all contacted the Department of Agriculture on our behalf and made no progress. If you want to give farmers a welfare system, then so be it, but call it what it is.
“Brendan and Sharon informed us in Kilfenora that they were resigning. It is an insolence to allow this. Brendan gave his life to that plan and that’s where it’s stuck.”
In 2017, the Burren program was recognized by the European Commission as the best of the EU’s 4,300 agri-environmental programmes.
In fact, delegations of farmers and officials from three different EU countries attended the Burren Winterage Weekend last month and plan to replicate the Burren program in their country.
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/news/burren-programme-founders-step-down-amid-outrage-over-acres-welfare-scheme-42143804.html The founders of the Burren program are stepping down amid outrage over the ACRES welfare program