Farm Ireland

Saturday 23 March 2019

Environmental schemes will come under the spotlight in CAP debate

Results-based projects could be the way forward for EU biodiversity schemes

EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan Picture: Collins
EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan Picture: Collins
Grace Maher

Grace Maher

Agri-environmental measures (AEM) will be just one of the subjects of debate as the policy framework for the next round of the CAP is decided. They play a crucial role in meeting society's demand for environmental outcomes provided by agriculture.

AEM's are described by the EU Commission as "measures to encourage farmers to protect and enhance the environment on their farmland by paying them for the provision of environmental services".

In practice farmers generally sign up to an AEM for five years and take on a variety of environmental measures beyond legal requirements, they receive a payment compensating them for additional costs and income forgone during the period.

There is a general consensus that farmers should be paid for any additional environmental measures carried out, however, there is also growing concern about the success of the measures applied. Without data to quantify just how effective measures undertaken by farmers are, it is difficult to judge the overall success of AEM's.

Projects and schemes that are result based do exist and The Burren Farming for Conservation Programme in Co Clare is one of the most successful examples of a results based scheme in the EU.

It has improved the environmental condition of approximately 30,000ha of unique farming landscape while simultaneously yielding significant economic income for the region.

Dr Dolores Byrne from the Institute of Technology in Sligo, has been involved in the implementation of a Results Based Agri Environment Pilot Scheme (RBAPS) based in Ireland and Spain. The pilot project is 70pc funded by the EU and is co-funded by project partners.

"The RBAPS project is running from January 2015 to June 2018 in the three locations of Country Leitrim and the Shannon Callows in Ireland and the Navarra region of Spain," says Dr Byrne. "The three locations were chosen as they are set within High Nature Value farmland areas. The overriding aim of the project is to promote the design, development and use of result-based schemes in order to conserve and enhance biodiversity."

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Pilot regions

RBAPS is working with 52 farmers within the three pilot regions to meet the project aims and to test how the scheme could be delivered across a variety of environmental measures.

Dr Byrne adds that "one of the successes of the project to date has been farmer involvement with identifying methods most suited to them and their farming conditions, and that farmers are advised on how to achieve the best environmental quality they can".

While the current AEM scheme in Ireland, GLAS, has been marred by late payments to farmers, AEM's do offer valuable additional income to those who participate in them.

The fact that EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has indicated that more quantifiable benefits will be expected in the future as return for monies invested in AEM's, indicates that we may be looking at implementing more results based schemes sooner rather than later.

Grace Maher is development officer with the IOFGA,

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