The REAP Scheme
In this article, That’s Farming looks at the Results-Based Environment-Agri Pilot Project (REAP). We provide an insight into what drives a higher payment rate by farmer preparation. We discuss actions which farmers have to conduct in year one, which have the potential to influence year two payments.
In 2021, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine launched the two-year REAP programme to trial an agri-environment results-based scoring and payment system on farms across the country.
Currently, according to DAFM figures, there are 3,740 farmers participating in this scheme.
The REAP Scheme: Maintaining field vegetation and structure
Once an inspection date has been agreed with your advisor, a score card will be produced for the parcels of your farm nominated for the scheme. Parcels can either be low-input grassland or multi-species ley.
An element of the scorecard is to analyse the positive indicators which are present throughout your parcels. Moreover, the higher number of positive indicators will reflect a higher rate of payment for your parcel.
This is an element of consideration for farmers who have conducted winter grazing on a select parcel, where poaching has occurred a number of positive indicators present in year 1 may not be visible in year 2.
The presence of negative indicators in low input grassland reduces your field score, negatively impacting your payment rate.
The negative indicators for low input grassland include:
Their abundance is significant, with a higher presence meaning a lower score. Should you have had a high presence of these negative indicators in year one, and then take action to control their abundance in year two, this will reflect a higher score.
Managing your hedgerows
Moreover, for multi-species leys and low input grassland, question 4 analyses all fenced field margins present and their width.
The disease can also have a significant influence on the presence of your hedgerow, should you suspect the presence of a disease, you must treat it accordingly.
Less frequent hedge cutting is appropriate for most hedgerows, including trimming the sides annually, but trimming the tops on a year cycle is the most effective option.
Condition A includes trees of >1.5 metres in height and condition B includes those which are taller in height.
Condition C hedgerows include those which are less than 1.5 metres in height.
Therefore, the DAFM allocates a higher payment rate to hedgerows which are higher in height and expand along the full margins of the field.
Similar to the recently announced ACRES scheme, hedgerow maintenance is not mandatory should it be less than 1.80 metres in height.
Repairing dry stone walls
Furthermore, you can conduct repairs to dry stone walls as part of the REAP scheme, using the same stone.
Should you have chosen to repair dry walls prior to your year two assessment, mortar is not advised. The introduction of mortar can further create a destabilising effect on the wall.
As a result, a stretch of a dry-stone wall can be damaged, which is neither appropriate nor environmentally friendly.
Condition A stone walls are in excellent condition, achieving the highest payment for their stock-proof structure. It is also acceptable if minor defects are evident in the stonewall structure.
Condition B stonewalls are considered to be in good or moderate condition. They provide evidence of advancing or potential deterioration.
Moreover, condition C walls are derelict. They are not considered stock-proof and can also be in the early stages of dereliction.
Low input grassland maintenance
Furthermore, from May until the present, the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine has suggested that you rest meadows selected for low input grassland.
The purpose of this resting period is to allow for the seeding of flowers, to replenish in the seed bank. This process also allows for the encouragement of flowering plants to thrive within their natural environment.
You should graze your low input parcels at an appropriate stocking rate, and avoid poaching. The evidence of poaching or any evidence of damage to the soil structure will lead to a reduction in REAP payments for year 2.
Farmers also have the option to mulch scrub within their low input parcels. Scrub may be mulched prior to encroaching the field. The presence of negative indicators further creates implications for productivity and biodiversity.
This summer, if the weather permits in your area, the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine recommends saving hay instead of silage as more seeds will be shed in the meadow as the crop dries out.
Mowing should commence in the centre of the parcel. This will enable remaining wildlife a better chance of escaping. Furthermore, it is suggested to also leave a margin of 1-2 metres around the headlands, if not already in place.
Should you suspect the presence of ground-nesting birds within your parcel this summer, do not mow and make contact with the relevant authorities.
Once you have harvested your crop, graze the remaining stubble with livestock. This will enable the vegetation structure and creates niches for new seedlings to establish.
The application of dung of farmyard manure can enhance organic matter levels within the soil.
Where selected, the fenced field margin should have been established by July 15th 2021, and August 15th for multi-species ley.
It is the farmer’s responsibility to ensure these margins are maintained in the area agreed by the farmer and their advisor for the duration of the scheme.
Moreover, the fence should be appropriate to exclude livestock. The margin may be placed either all around, or by either side.
Hereafter, once the advisor and farmer have agreed on this in year 1, the margin should maintain in the same location for the REAP assessment in year two.
Manage the margin by mowing and flailing at least once per year. This management can only take place between September 1st and February 28th. Cuttings should also be removed.
The area agreed within the margin should not receive fertiliser or lime application for the duration of the scheme.
REAP scheme year two plans are to be completed by your farm advisor by July 31st, 2022. The contract end date for the scheme is December 31st, 2022.
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