The Changing Model for Agricultural Schemes
Results-based payment schemes are likely to be the future of agri-environmental schemes going forward for Irish farmers. Martina Donnelly, Teagasc Galway/Clare Advisor, compares the previous REPS and GLAS schemes to the new REAP scheme here.
Results-based schemes generally involve the payment to participants for results achieved or they can be a blended model with payments for ‘non-productive investments’ which encourage the delivery of biodiversity and environmental benefits such as fencing of field margins and the planting of hedges or trees within the farm.
REPS and GLAS
Since 1994, it has been compulsory for all EU member states to have an Agri-environment Scheme in place. In Ireland, initially we had the Rural Environment Protection Schemes or REPS 1, 2, 3 and 4. This evolved to the Agri-Environment Options Scheme or AEOS 1, 2 & 3 and currently the Green Low Carbon Agri-Environment (GLAS) Scheme is in place. Since REPS was first introduced back in the nineties, agri-environment schemes have gone through a number of revisions, with an increased emphasis on measures focusing on environmental improvement and protection.
Within GLAS the scheme many farmers are currently participating in, it uses a standard prescription based model where payments are made for carrying out actions on areas such as traditional hay meadow, low input permanent pasture, sowing of wild bird cover and the use of low emission slurry spreading.
Result-based payment schemes operate differently to the current agri-environmental scheme model. The newly introduced REAP scheme (Results-based Environment-Agri Pilot) in Ireland is a two year scheme in place for 2021 and 2022. Results-based schemes are not new but up to now have been in place in specific areas only. In the west, the Burren Programme, the Hen Harrier, the Pearl Mussel, the North Connemara locally led agri-environmental Scheme and Caomhnú Árann projects are examples of successful results based payment schemes.
The REAP pilot will run for the next two years during which time it will be evaluated both by the Department of Agriculture and also most importantly by the farmer. Feedback from other results based programmes currently in operation have found that this approach is more farmer and also farm friendly in that it allows for the fact that every farmer has a different way of managing their farm. The Farming for Nature publication by Teagasc and the NPWS found that there is flexibility within the specifications that allows participants to select lands where results are achievable. The feedback from the Department of Agriculture’s public consultation found that “there is a strong belief that incentivising farmers to incorporate environmental measures into farm practices by linking payments to results can deliver environmental and biodiversity benefits on Irish farms”.
REAP is not a whole farm scheme. It offers a participation payment of €1200 per year. Participants must opt for a field payment for low input grassland (LIG) or sowing of a multi-species ley (MSL). An optional capital payment is available for either the planting of hedges or trees €1000 in one year only. €50/ha of a top up is available for late sown meadows.
The payment rates for low impact grassland or LIG varies based on the score of the field from €250-€400/ha. For MSL, the payment rates available are from €125-€275/ha.
In REAP using the results-based approach, features on the farm are assessed and scored by the Agricultural adviser. For LIG the fields will be assessed/scored for species richness, quality and abundance of non-grass species. The field boundaries are assessed for quality and quantity of hedgerows, trees and stonewalls. Also assessed are the quantity of negative indicator species throughout the field and along field margins.
This system rewards farmers based on the environmental score achieved, the higher the score the higher the payment which will be achieved. As aforementioned “participating REAP “farmers will have the opportunity to further increase their field score and therefore their payments next year by adjusting the management and/or completing certain complementary actions such as late mown meadows.
Up until now agri-environment schemes paid farmers to follow set prescriptions or carry out specific but also penalised them if all works were not carried out. This new model is more focused on the results, for instance the more diverse the positive indicator species found in low input grassland the better the financial rewards. These schemes are worth considering as the reward is both beneficial to environment and biodiversity of our farms and also farm income. Just like with cattle and sheep…quality pays!
By Martina Donnelly, B&T Drystock Adviser, Teagasc Galway/Clare.
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For more on this topic see REAP.