All You Need To Know About New Changes To Eco Schemes

Farmers will be able to choose from at least 10 measures through Eco Schemes under the next CAP with several amendments to the scheme’s original actions to be implemented also, the Minister for Agriculture has confirmed.

The move follows pressure from farm organisations and rural TDs for the list of proposed measures to be extended to allow for more farmers to qualify for the scheme – where 25pc of farmers’ direct payments will now be allocated (€297m annually).

Farmers will receive a full Eco Scheme payment where they deliver two of the listed agricultural practices on eligible agricultural land, except in cases now outlined where a single practice will attract a full payment.

The minister outlined the updated list of measures as the following:

Space for nature: At least 7pc of a farmer’s holding must be devoted to biodiversity, habitats or landscape features, building on the 4pc requirement for all farmers already set under GAEC 8 as part of Conditionality.

Where a farmer commits 10pc or more of his/her holding to space for nature that will be considered as two actions, and qualify a farmer for a full Eco Scheme payment.

Extensive livestock production to promote traditional grassland farming practices at extensive animal stocking rates. To qualify, the stocking rate over the previous year must be between a minimum (0.15 LU/hectare) and a maximum (proposed as 1.5 LU/hectare) value.

Limiting chemical nitrogen usage: This practice is being expanded to also reward more moderate to intensive farmers who limit their chemical nitrogen use to a lower level based on their stocking rate in the previous calendar year. Further details are set out in the table.

Farmers will receive a full Eco Scheme payment where they deliver two of the listed agricultural practices

Each farmer will be presented with their chemical nitrogen limit in the year of the Eco Scheme application based on their stocking rate in the previous year. Where a farmer who was stocked at, for example, 100kgs / organic nitrogen / ha in 2022 wishes to avail of this practice in 2023, they must ensure they do not apply more than 89kgs of chemical nitrogen / ha in 2023. Compliance levels for 2023 will be checked using the Department’s Fertiliser Register.

Planting of native trees: A farmer can now opt to plant a length of hedgerow instead of three trees per eligible hectare. Where the farmer opts to plant a hedgerow, the commitment will be for one metre per eligible hectare instead of three trees per eligible hectare.

Where a farmer selects to plant twice the commitment, that is, six trees per eligible hectare or two metres of hedgerow per eligible hectare, this will count as two practices and qualify a farmer for the full Eco Scheme payment.

Farmers will receive a full Eco Scheme payment where they deliver two of the listed agricultural practices.

Use of a GPS-controlled fertiliser spreader: This practice is also being expanded, to include GPS-controlled sprayers where they are used to apply liquid fertiliser and/or plant protection products.

Soil sampling and, where appropriate, liming on all eligible hectares aimed at improving soil fertility: This action can be chosen once every three years in line with Teagasc guidance regarding the appropriate intervals between soil samples being taken.

Enhanced crop diversification: Where a farmer has a crop diversification requirement, s/he must plant a break crop (beans, peas, oilseed rape or oats) as their second or third crop. Where a farmer has a 2-crop requirement, the break crop must account for at least 25pc of the arable area. Where a farmer has a 3-crop requirement, the break crop must also account for at least 25pc of the arable area.

Sowing of a multi species sward: On at least 6pc of eligible hectares in the year the farmer selects this agricultural practice as one of his/her two Eco-scheme actions.

Minister McConalogue said the additional practices will not only provide farmers with more options to participate in the Eco Scheme but will also contribute to delivering on the scheme’s objectives in relation to climate, environment, water quality and biodiversity.

“I am confident that these changes respond effectively to stakeholder feedback, and that the Eco Scheme proposals will ensure that any active farmer, regardless of farm type or size, who wishes to participate in the Eco-Scheme from 2023 on will be able to do so.”

(Source – Irish Independent – Indo Farming – Claire Mc Cormack – 26/11/2021)

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