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McConalogue announces proposed changes to eco-schemes

Minister Charlie McConalogue has made changes to eco-scheme proposals under Ireland’s 2023-2027 CAP Strategic Plan.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food, and the Marine’s move comes in response to stakeholder feedback.

He said he has “listened carefully to farmers through direct consultation with farm organisations and through the CAP Consultative Committee as well as on my recent nationwide tour of 27 marts in 25 counties”.

“I have now reflected on this feedback,” the minister said in a statement on Thursday, November 25th, 2021.

The minister announced several amendments to previously published eco-scheme options.

He also confirmed the DAFM is including several additional agricultural practices as options. The minister said the inclusion of these measures will raise the number of such practices available under the scheme from five to ten.

According to the DAFM, the aim of Ireland’s Eco-Scheme is to reward farmers for undertaking actions beneficial to the:

  • Climate;
  • Environment;
  • Water quality;
  • Biodiversity.

Eco-schemes

Farmers will have to carry out two eco-scheme practices to qualify for a full payment.

Tthe minister referred to the existing list of five practices, as follows:

  1. Space for Nature – A farmer must devote at least 7% of their holding to biodiversity, habitats, or landscape features. The builds on the 4% requirement for all farmers already set under GAEC 8 as part of Conditionality.
  2. Extensive Livestock Production – this will 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.
  3. Limiting chemical nitrogen usage – this will promote low usage of chemical nitrogen.  To qualify, the farmer must not exceed a certain level of chemical nitrogen (proposed as 73kg per hectare) across their holding in the year of eco-scheme participation.
  4. Planting of native trees – this will promote the planting of native trees. To qualify, the farmer must plant at least three trees per eligible hectare in the year of eco-scheme participation.
  5. Use of a GPS-controlled fertiliser spreader – this will promote the use of precision machinery for applying chemical fertiliser. He said this will hereby reduce inputs while also reducing environmental and climate impact.
The minister indicated that now proposing the following amendments to these options:
  1. Limiting Chemical Nitrogen Usage: He said 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.
Grassland stocking rate in 2022 (kgs organic nitrogen per ha) Max permitted application of chemical nitrogen in 2023*

(kgs per ha)

<90 73
91-130 89
131-170 165
171-210 240
>210 214

*These figures are indicative only and are not yet finalised.

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.

The DAFM provided an example to explain the proposal further.

Where a farmer who was stocked at, for example, 100 kgs of organic nitrogen per hectare in 2022 wishes to avail of this eco-scheme practice in 2023, they must ensure they do not apply more than 89 kgs of chemical nitrogen per hectare in 2023.

Compliance levels for 2023 will be checked using the Department’s Fertiliser Register in Quarter 4 2023.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
Proposed measures: 

The minister also indicated that the DAFM is now proposing the following additional eco-scheme practices:

  • 1a) Space for Nature – where a farmer commits 10% or more of their holding to space for nature that will be considered as two actions, and qualify a farmer for a full eco-scheme payment.
  • 4a) Planting of native trees – 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.
  1. Soil sampling and, where appropriate, liming on all eligible hectares. The minister said the aim of this is improving soil fertility. A farmer can select this action once every three years in line with Teagasc guidance regarding the appropriate intervals between soil samples being taken.
  2. 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 25% of the arable area. Where a farmer has a 3-crop requirement, the break crop must also account for at least 25% of the arable area.
  3. Sowing of a multi-species sward – on at least 6% of eligible hectares in the year, the farmer selects this agricultural practice as one of their two eco-scheme actions.
Ensure all farmers can participate in eco-schemes  

Minister McConalogue believes adding these new practices will:

  • Provide farmers with more options to participate in the eco-scheme;
  • Contribute to delivering on the scheme’s objectives in relation to climate, environment, water quality and biodiversity.

The minister believes these eco-schemes 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”.

His announcement regarding eco-schemes changes comes following other changes to Ireland’s CAP Strategic Plan, as published by That’s Farming.

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