ICSA president Dermot Kelleher has expressed concern that Department proposals on the eco-scheme will not work unless there is a serious engagement with farm organisations on the practicalities of what’s been proposed. “There are two elements to the non-productive area piece which are that farmers will have a compulsory 4% under the EU regulations and if they want to use it to qualify for an eco-scheme payment, they will have to achieve another 3 or 4% non-productive area.”
“In theory many farmers would choose the option, but not if it is totally impractical or too costly. The Department needs to listen to the representatives of the farmers that will actually be expected to implement this.
We need proper impact analysis of this. We are told that on average, tillage farms have 5% non-productive area but there is no statistic yet for grassland farms. We must guard against the misleading nature of averages. We need a lot more nuanced analysis. How many farms are already above the 4% and how many have no hope of meeting it? How does this vary by county and even within parishes? Supposing for example that the average for West Clare was 10% and the average for East Clare was 2%, the county average would be 6% which would look ok. But the reality would be that a lot of farmers in East Clare would be in serious difficulty.”
“The problem is that environmentalists think that more is better. This isn’t true in reality because if the target is unattainable for many, then we will simply drive farmers to adopt GPS fertiliser spreaders instead. So instead of farmers doing some measures to allocate land to non-productive features, we will instead see CAP funding increased sales of imported machinery. Worse, the reality is that a farm which is already using low levels of fertiliser will not deliver a whole lot by switching to marginally more accurate fertiliser spreaders which require bigger, fuel thirsty tractors. In the end, the saving on smaller, less intensive farms might be a few buckets of fertiliser.”
“For the same reasons, we also need to debate whether the extensive farming and low-chemical fertiliser options in the eco-scheme are set at the right level. In principle, ICSA supports these options but if they are set at too low a level, they become self-defeating because medium extensive farmers are ruled out. So, it is vital that the Department starts engaging with the actual representatives of those who are actually expected to implement this.”