Over 46,000 farmers who applied to the ACRES scheme will receive an update by mid-February, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue has confirmed.
Speaking at the ICSA AGM and Conference on Thursday night, Minister McConalogue said his department is currently working through every application and assessing that all are in order before moving to the next stage.
“I’m aware of the issue of a gap year for some farmers arising this year as they transition out of GLAS,” he said.
“I’m giving it full consideration, but let me be clear, it is my clear desire to support farmers and their ambition to improve our climate and biodiversity.
“The last thing I or this Government wants to do is to leave anyone behind. It’s important now that we move quickly on this and I intend to be announcing some next steps very soon. All ACRES applicants will hear from us by mid-February.”
The Minister said he is delighted with the exceptionally high application rate for the scheme of over 46,000 farmers, up from the initial target of 30,000.
“This shows the environmental ambition of farmers and how they are continuing to be the shining light in the country’s overall climate and environmental ambitions,” he said.
“Farmers’ ambitions are being matched by this Government’s commitment of €1.5bn to ACRES, demonstrating our belief that the scheme can and will make a significant contribution to our efforts to address and mitigate climate change as well as water and biodiversity challenges.”
If funding is found for the additional 16,000 farmers, it will ensure they receive a payment next year.
However, without extra funding, priority is given to applicants in the following order:
Another way the Department could rank applications is through specific selection criteria, with each farmer receiving a score.
ICSA President Dermot Kelleher urged the Minister to find a way to ensure that all ACRES applicants are accepted into the scheme.
“If you help farmers in the right way, farmers will deliver on biodiversity, water quality and climate, and keep delivering,” he said.
“Too many policies are targeting farmers as the problem, not the solution. How else can you explain the Nature Restoration Regulation or the planned Sustainable Use of Pesticides Regulation?
“Widespread reflooding land that has been productively farmed is not a way forward. Widespread bans on sprays without alternative products is not a way forward. We need sensible compromises that recognise that food security needs to be balanced with nature objectives.”
Mr Kelleher accused the Government of “dancing to the tune of the vegan lobby that has driven a campaign to cut down the national herd”.
“I am calling on you to ensure that Government, and many so called expert commentators in the media and academia, have to take responsibility for the one-sided framing of this debate,” said Mr Kelleher.