Limited Impact Of GLAS To Help Environment Outweighed By Dairy, Beef Expansion

About 40% of farmers, on 40% of all farmland, took part in the €920m scheme.

The effect of GLAS has been modest at a national scale in reducing pollutant loads, and mitigating climate change, according to the latest evaluation of the €920m agri-environment scheme.

The main reason is that GLAS failed to engage larger and more intensive farmers, who were put off by the overall payment cap and relatively low payment rates, according to the evaluation by ADAS, the UK’s largest independent provider of agricultural and environmental consultancy advice.

Most of the farmers in GLAS were in the north and west, and were small-scale or part-time farmers. GLAS was less popular on more intensive farms in the south and east where.jpg

Reductions of pollutants from farms in GLAS are estimate to have a national impact of 3% or less.

And in terms of Ireland’s Climate Action Plan targets, ADAS said expansion of dairy and beef herds in Ireland has outweighed gains from GLAS. A slump in forestry plantings since 2000 has exacerbated the situation.

The GLAS focus on priority environmental assets, and its tiered structure, were effective, to the extent that priorities for biodiversity and high status water areas are well covered. However, this has been less effective in addressing key environmental pressures, notably vulnerable water catchments, because larger and more intensive farms were less involved in GLAS.

Estimates of additionality for individual actions range from 20% (managing hedgerows) to 67% (minimum tillage) based on a participant survey, indicating many farmers would have carried out these without the GLAS incentive.

But 66% of farms were deemed to have outcomes that could not be achieved without GLAS support.

The Green Low Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS) is intended to restore, preserve and enhance ecosystems dependent on agriculture and forestry, and to support the shift toward a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy.

It has a strong focus on biodiversity and targeted actions for climate and water quality.

Less well-established actions include arable grass margins, management of fallow land, coppicing and layering of hedgerows, and actions for corncrake.

The total allocation of funding for GLAS is €920m, of which €529m (57%) was spent to the end of 2018, with an expectation that the budget will be exceeded by the end of the programme, including a spend of about €85m in 2020 and €20m in 2021.

GLAS is not the only scheme to support and encourage sustainable farming. It has operated alongside the Beef Data and Genomics Programme; Areas of Natural Constraint; Organic Farming Scheme; Burren Programme; locally-led European Innovation Partnership schemes such as the Hen Harrier and Freshwater Pearl Mussel projects; GLAS Traditional Farm Building Scheme; Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme; GLAS predecessors such as AEOS, REPS, OFS; Results-Based Agri-environment Schemes in Co Leitrim and the Shannon Callows; and the Farm Plan Scheme operated by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, to target certain birds.

There have been agri- environment schemes since REPS started in 1994

However, a 2019 assessment of the status of habitats and species that Ireland is required to protect under the EU Habitats Directive highlighted that many habitats are in unfavourable status, with nearly half demonstrating ongoing declines. The overall picture for plant and animal species is substantially better, with over 70% stable or increasing.

Meanwhile, the main water quality problem has been nitrogen and phosphorus pollution which can cause excessive plant growth and harmful algal blooms.

Although 53% of surface water bodies are in satisfactory ecological health, a third of rivers and lakes and a quarter of estuaries do not meet nutrient-based quality standards, with agriculture and waste water the main sources of the nutrients.

A GLAS survey indicated that 41% of participating farms made changes in fertiliser use, 31% changed livestock numbers, and 20% said there were some changes in the length of grazing season (compared to only 13% of non-GLAS farmers).

Over Є8bn is to be provided to CAP from the EU Covid Recovery Fund. Pic. David Creedon, Anzenberger..jpg

Modelling work indicates that GLAS delivers moderate nitrate, phosphorus, nitrous oxide and methane reductions, but these are greatest in the central and western areas of lower environmental pressure, but high GLAS uptake.

The 53,178 farmers in GLAS (about 40% of Irish farmers, and 40% of all farmland) exceeded the programme target, but uptake has been concentrated on livestock farms in the north and west, and among small-scale or part-time farmers.

Uptake was less by the more intensive farms in the south and east where environmental pressures from farming are greatest.

GLAS farms have lower greenhouse gas and ammonia emissions, but dairy and beef expansion, and a slump in forestry plantings, have outweighed such gains.

ADAS said GLAS administration is generally good, with low levels of non-compliance, but the limit of €5,000 on annual payments constrained participation.

“It is much too early to measure outcomes for most actions, but the evidence on implementation and surveyor assessment of likely outcomes is generally positive, with few missed opportunities or unintended consequences.”

(Source – Irish Examiner – Farming – Stephen Cadogan – 13/11/2020)

Agri-Environment Schemes Must Be Much More Ambitious

GLAS review includes call to target more intensive farms

Better targeting of dairy and arable sectors by future agri-environment schemes has been recommended by ADAS, in its evaluation report on the GLAS scheme.

ADAS, a UK-based agriculture consultancy,  said future schemes must be much more ambitious, including for example, scaling up tree and hedge planting, and restoring peatland in commonages, in order to reduce agricultural emissions by 2030.

Rewetting peatland and re-vegetation of bare peat, were suggested.

ADAS said the environmental progress achieved by GLAS was “modest”.

Rewetting peatland and re-vegetation of bare peat, in commonages, is recommended for more ambitious schemes to reduce agricultural emissions by 2030..jpg

“Participation of more intensive farms would increase greenhouse gas mitigation, though uptake of fertiliser reduction,” said ADAS, which called for the overall balance of CAP funding to be reviewed, for mitigating the negative environmental impacts of agriculture, and incentivising public good benefits. New actions could include supporting pollinators on farmland, for example.

It was suggested that payment rates vary, for example according to whether catch crops are grazed or not. Or low input permanent pasture payments could vary from arable to dairy farms to others. Bird action payments could be linked to the latest bird population data.

Some of these recommendations could be put into action in the Government’s new pilot project to be directed at farmers not currently in GLAS.

The ADAS suggestion of mandatory fencing of livestock farms in high-status water areas is already being put into effect on more intensive farms, where January 1 next is the deadline for cattle to be excluded from watercourses by the erection of fences.

ADAS also raised the wider question about whether to increase incentives to reduce pollution, or whether the polluter pays approach should apply, making polluters internalise the costs of use, or degradation of environmental resources, rather than allow society to incur costs after the damage has been done.

ADAS also suggested that water, landscape, nesting/roosting features, catch crops and rare breeds actions which were in GLAS be

moved into an eco-scheme in the next CAP. Uptake could be targeted at farms in vulnerable water catchments or where habitats/birds are at risk.

ADAS also recommended moving incentives for technology uptake (minimum tillage and low emission slurry spreading) to an eco-scheme.

(Source – Irish Examiner – Farming – Stephen Cadogan – 13/11/2020)

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