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ACRES: The ins and outs of the the two entry routes

In this article, That’s Farming looks at the differences between the two entry routes into Ireland’s newest flagship agri-environmental scheme, ACRES.

There are two elements to the ACRES scheme:

  • The ACRES General, offering a range of actions for individual farmers (both targeted and general);
  • ACRES Co-operation Project (CP); which is available to farmers in defined high-priority geographical areas who opt to undertake measures, as well as bespoke farm, landscape and river catchment measures. Farmers participating in this option will have the assistance of a Local Cooperation Project Team (CP Team), who will assist with implementing the scheme at a local level.

Farmers who choose to participate in the ACRES Scheme will have only one ACRES contract, which will either be ACRES General or ACRES Co-operation, with the relevant application to be prepared and submitted by an approved ACRES advisor.

Scorecards 

The ACRES Co-operation project will adopt a qualitative approach, whereby all forage lands included in the scheme will be assessed using results-based scorecards with incentives in place to increase scores and improve the landscape being farmed.

Results-based payments will be available on forage land that is located within the CP zone and on commonage land. All forage land within the predefined CP zone will be identified according to three main habitat types:

  • Grassland;
  • Peatland;
  • Woodland/scrubland.

Each habitat type has a corresponding scorecard which can be used to assess the ecological integrity of the habitat.

CP Teams may also be designed additional bespoke scorecards or have variations to existing scorecards for certain land types/conservation targets within their respective CP zone.

In comparison, the ACRES general approach also has the option to select results-based scorecards. There are four scorecards available in the general approach.

  • Commonage, with results-based payments up to €220/ha/yr;
  • Low input grassland, with results-based payments up to €400/ha/yr;
  • Low input peat grassland, with results-based payments up to €400/ha/yr;
  • Extensively grazed pasture, at a rate of €200/ha/yr.
Payment structure

As with the two different approaches, there will be two different payment packages also available for applicants.

ACRES General approach is structured as a package, and offers a maximum payment of €7,311/applicant per full calendar year.

The level of payment a farmer may achieve will be determined by the payment rates for the actions selected and undertaken satisfactorily.

ACRES Co-operative approach is structured as a package, and offers a maximum payment of €10,500 per applicant per full calendar year.

This is broken into results-based maximum payment of €7,000 and additional non-productive investment, and landscape maximum payments of €3,500.

The level of payment you can achieve will be determined by results-based scorecards, non-productive investments, and landscape actions, which will be designed for your land types and region.

Non-productive investments and landscape actions

Non-productive investments and landscape actions will be determined by the co-operation teams in consultation with relevant stakeholders to assist with the delivery of environmental outputs/improvement at a local level.

ACRES Co-operation participants can apply for these investments or actions annually. Examples of possible investments include:

  • Nest protection;
  • Dry stone wall maintenance;
  • Pond creation;
  • Winterage practices;
  • Drinking point provision;
  • Water retention measures.

Payment rates for individual actions in ACRES will be available in due course as part of the final terms and conditions.

Farmers with land in Co-operative and General

Due to the fragmented nature of Irish farms, there may be ACRES CP applicants who will have land insider and outside of the 8 CP zones.

Applicants may choose from the full list of general actions on lands that are located outside the CP zone and from a defined list of general actions on land located within the CP zone.

ACRES CP applicants can only choose the conservation of rare breeds, low emission slurry spreading (LESS) and traditional dry stone wall maintenance as a general action on land within CP zone.

In quarter 1 and quarter 2 of 2023, for each approved ACRES CP participant, the CP teams will assess all land parcels in the CP zone that were declared in each ACRES CP applicant’s 2022 BPS.

They will identify the land parcels/fields that are eligible to be scored using results based score cards and eligible to potentially receive results-based payments.

Payments for ACRES CP participants will be prioritised in the following order:

  • All commonage;
  • CP zone results-based payments;
  • General actions.
Payment examples

At application stage, to allow advisors to plan for the amount of funding that could be available for general actions on the farm, funding available for ACRES, CP applicants will be ring-fenced for commonage and ACRES CP zone lands that may be eligible for results-based payments.

The ring-fenced payment is based on a rate of €145/ha for commonage parcels declared on 2022 BPS.

In comparison, the DAFM pays permanent pasture, low input permanent pasture and traditional hay meadow that you declare on your 2022 BPS at a rate of €300/ha.

For example, Farmer A:

Farmer with 43ha of commonage declared in 2022 BPS:

  1. 5ha of commonage at €145/ha;
  2. 8ha of owned forage declared as permanent pasture in CP zone at €300/ha;
  3. 30ha of privately owned land outside of the CP zone.

Funds available from general actions = €7,000 minus (a X b)

  1. 5 x €145 = €725;
  2. 8 x €300 = €2,400

= €3,125

Therefore, €7,000 minus €3,125 ring-fenced payment leaves €3,875 available for general actions.

All 29 general actions are available to the participant on the 30ha outside the CP zone.

You can select LESS and conservation of rare breeds as whole farm actions, but the only action that you can choose on a parcel within a CP zone is traditional dry stonewall maintenance.

Example B:

Farmer with 53ha of land declared in 2022 BPS:

  1. 26ha of commonage at €145/ha;
  2. 17ha of owned permanent pasture in CP zone at €300/ha
  3. 10ha of privately owned land outside of CP zone.

Therefore,

  1. 26 x €145 = €3,770
  2. 17 x €300 = €5,100

Total: €8,870

This exceeds the cap of €7,000, and there will be no funding available for general actions for this participant.

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