Why farmers will find there is no easy money in ACRES

In a swampy field outside of Carrick-on-Shannon, a group of farmers stare at the ground. Some are on the phone, others are checking their clipboard.

another farmer outside the group shouts, “I found one!”; the crowd then surrounds him, phones out, clipboards ready.

Anyone walking down the street that day and coming across the bizarre sight must have scratched their heads and thought, “What are you looking for? Has anyone lost money or keys?’

No, these farmers were looking for flowers because nowadays, as one farmer put it, “there is money for flowers”.

Farmers attended a training course on the new CAP and received a detailed breakdown of the many changes at farm level.

One of the biggest investments in climate action that the state will make via the revenues from the CAP and the carbon tax will be the €1.5 billion ACRES programme, which will be launched this year. This is the latest descendant in a long line of agri-environmental schemes, from the popular REPS in the 1990s to the more troubled GLAS now.

ACRES has been heavily hyped by the government, especially ahead of the last elections when party leaders signaled a return to good old REPS systems.

Details of the new program have been leaking out in recent months, and one thing is for sure: farmers who believed in the hype will be greatly disappointed.

The new system, like much of the new CAP, is symptomatic of the Ministry of Agriculture’s new position as a slave to two masters.

It has very ambitious goals in terms of climate protection and biodiversity, but it also has to try to keep farmers happy. It could well fail at both.

In recent weeks, as the details of the scheme’s rules and payment rates have emerged, farmers have begun talking to their advisors, farm representatives and each other about whether to join.

Initial reports paint a worrying picture for the government.

The new system faces a number of challenges, little of which the government can do about it at first.

Inflation is the issue in most households and will have a major impact on the next CAP. Farmers will question whether the payment rates are worth the hassle.

Many advisors I’ve spoken to say the feedback from a large proportion of their clients is that an ACRES payment of €2,000-3,000 is simply not worth the hassle considering the increased workload and the tax officer.

Advisors are also concerned that the prices of program inputs such as trees, hedges, fence posts and wire vary widely from the department’s payment rates.

The reality is that the value of fixed payment systems like ACRES falls every month as inflation ravages the economy.

Only 13 per cent of dairy farmers participated in GLAS and one of the Department’s major goals for this program was to increase that number, going so far as to offer priority access over other farmers.

However, with milk prices around 60 c/l, it will be very difficult to persuade dairy farmers to choose options that limit production.

The increased bureaucratic burden associated with the system was also identified as a major obstacle for farmers.

A good example is the action where these farmers huddled around wildflowers in Carrick on Shannon.

At GLAS, the Low Input Permanent Pasture option has been an important way for many farmers to build a meaningful payment.

However, under ACRES, this action has been replaced by an outcome-based action, where farmers are paid based on the amount of biodiversity in a given plot.

The added complexity and uncertainty has not gone down well with farmers.

The advisers are also concerned about the administrative levels involved, with some suggestions it could take a day and a half to make each individual application. This will no doubt affect the fees they charge and further erode the value of the payment.

Environmental program reporting requirements have increased with each iteration, and signs suggest that the ACRES program will require a lot of paperwork.

It is clear that the days of “money for jam” schemes are over. Environmental payments need to be linked to environmental outcomes, be it water quality, emissions or biodiversity.

Unlike before, many eyes are on the industry and everyone is demanding more and more.

Nonetheless, there are many farmers who can make the most of this system because the particular circumstances of their situation, farm or system suit their design. These farmers are most likely extensive farmers with lots of land.

However, many farmers who have participated in environmental programs for years say that this program may not be worth the effort.

In fact, some consultants have said many clients see more logic in raising livestock and forgetting about environmental programs. This outcome would be catastrophic for the government.

For these farmers to jump on board will require a fundamental mindset shift.

In previous programs, farmers looked for the easiest way to siphon off the most money. There is no easy money in ACRES.


Details of the ACRES program

The big changes in the new ACRES system

New immigration process

Like GLAS, farmers willing to apply for the program will be accepted in three tranches. However, should the program be oversubscribed, the ranking process for applicants has been changed.

In Tier 1, farmers with priority assets such as Natura land, community and SAC get access first, along with those involved in rare breed conservation and organic farmers.

A notable change at ACRES is that in 2021, more intensive farmers with a whole farm stocking rate of more than 130 kg of manure nitrogen per hectare (NPH) and farms with over 30 ha of arable crops will have priority access to Tier 2.

Unlike GLAS, farmers adopting low-emission manure spreading (LESS) or wild bird coverage are not guaranteed entry.

However, farmers who choose one of three tree planting options will gain access.

More complex application process

The application process for ACRES will be more complex and comprehensive than previous agri-environment schemes.

Farmers must appoint an ACRES accredited advisor to apply on their behalf.

Farmers need extensive advice and planning when applying, as measures under other CAP programs need to be taken into account.

Advisors must also visit each farm to help the farmer decide which measures to choose.

Many advisors are suggesting that each ACRES plan could take a day and a half, which will affect their fees.

Low-effort permanent grassland measure

LIPP was one of the most popular measures in GLAS, but will not be an option in ACRES. For many farmers, building up a sizable payment has been one of the most important actions.

Result-oriented measures

The lucrative LIPP measure was replaced by low-input grassland and low-input peat grassland.

In order to receive the significant payment rates available, the land parcels selected by farmers must contain significant amounts of mandatory wildflowers, which are assessed using a grading system.

Extensively grazed permanent grassland

This measure is similar to LIPP, but the payment rate will be much lower. A new rule also stipulates that farmers may only rush or spray 50 percent of the selected land in a year.

grass edges

This new measure will pay farmers to fence an area 2m, 3m or 6m from the field boundary to create a corridor for wildlife. The area can be cut at certain times, but not grazed.

Low-emission liquid manure spreading

LESS is included in the program, but the payment rate has not improved from levels in GLAS, despite a significant increase in contractor costs.

tree planting opportunities

There are three ways to plant trees under ACRES:

■ Row(s) along field borders/yard passages or along electric fence borders, or plant a row of tree rows within a pasture or arable field.

■ Group(s) at desired locations on the farm, keeping a distance of at least 4 m.

The maximum individual area that can be planted with groups of trees is 0.9 ha.

■ Parkland, in which you plant individual trees spread across a pasture, leaving 12m between individual trees.

Cultivation of intensive grassland next to a watercourse

There were significant changes to the water protection measures.

■ Only farms that had an agricultural stocking density of 100 kgN/ha from grazing livestock or more in 2021 can choose this measure.

■ Package(s) must be fenced and safe for storage for the term of the contract.

■ Grazing is not permitted from October 1st to March 15th.

■ No overseeding or drainage work is permitted during the contract period.

■ Chemical or organic fertilizers must not be applied to the plot.

■ Pesticides and herbicides are not permitted except for spot treatment of noxious or invasive weeds.

■ Invasive weeds can also be controlled by topping, but this is only allowed in limited areas after July 1st.

■ No machine operation is allowed from April to June of each year.

■ The selected plots can be cut for hay or silage, but only after July 1st.

https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/news/why-farmers-will-find-theres-no-easy-money-in-acres-41963350.html Why farmers will find there is no easy money in ACRES

Fry Electronics Team

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