The Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) have called on the Minister and his staff to ensure all farmers receive their ACRES payments this February as promised in a meeting with INHFA last December.
Speaking on this INHFA Vice-President John Joe Fitzgerald referenced the frustration expressed by farmers on the announcement last December around the delay in payments. This announcement he stated “came as a hammer-blow to these farmers especially those in ACRES Co-operation who were told that their payments won’t be issued until February.
In delaying these payments, Fitzgerald outlined how the DAFM detailed their need for more time to assess the habitat score cards and process the payments. As we move into February it is he stated “vital that payments are issued to all farmers in ACRES Co-operation and to those farmers in ACRES General that have still not received any payment.
We are, he added, “also calling for full 100% payment to be issued in February as farmers have waited long enough”.
These payments must, he continued, “be completed by the end of the month and there can be no more back-tracking.” This he added “is a point that the Minister and Department staff need to recognise and understand the justified anger felt by farmers who see hard penalties applied by Department staff when they fail to meet deadlines, but see the same Department miss deadline after deadline without any sanction.”
Beyond the hold up in payments Fitzgerald also pointed to the lack of clarity around what farmers will be required to do. This he maintained “is a major issue, especially for farmers in Co-operation areas who are still waiting to see what their habitat score will be. In the absence of this score, farmers don’t know what non-productive investments or landscape actions they should consider but even worse, they don’t know what payment they can expect.”
This he added “is the ultimate pig in a bag and the fact that farmers are still in the dark around these issues over a year since they first expressed an interest in joining ACRES is absolutely shocking.”
In relation to this the INHFA leader also pointed to an understanding around these notifications. “Our understanding was that farmers should have been notified of their habitat score last Autumn and could have opted out of the scheme at that point if they so desired.”
With regard to Tranche 2 of ACRES the INHFA are asking the Minister to seek additional funding to ensure all applicants can get access.
We are, stated Fitzgerald, concerned “that over half of the 9,200 applicants will not get access as the Government stays with their original target of 50,000 applicants. At a time when the Government is encouraging positive actions to address environmental concerns, to not support over 5,000 farmers that have indicated a willingness to engage and deliver on these issues is unacceptable.”