The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association have insisted that the new REPS pilot scheme needs to ensure that existing good practice is recognised and paid on.
National President Colm O’Donnell outlined the organisation’s priorities following a meeting with Minister McConalogue and his officials. This new pilot is, he stated “significantly different to previous Agri-environmental schemes with an emphasis on the delivery of outcomes as opposed to the previous measures based schemes.”
With this change in focus it is, he added “vital that existing good practices are rewarded in equal measure to any improvements. For example 50 metres of an existing hedgerow is sequestering just as much carbon as 50 metres of a newly planted hedgerow and must be recognised and paid at the same rate.”
As the pilot scheme is a two year programme the actions implemented and the outcomes delivered will form the basis for a new Agri-environmental scheme post 2023. For this reason it is, stressed O’Donnell “vital that farming systems which were left behind in the current GLAS such as privately owned hill land and lowland farmers on heavy soils who didn’t have a priority measure are included.”
It is he continued “also vital that farmers on commonage lands are included, which is why we were very disappointed to see that no reference to commonage farming in the Departments current discussion document on this REPS pilot. This was an issue we addressed with the Minister and we will be watching and engaging further on it.”
Other concerns raised with the Minister included the overall budget and the number of farmers that will get access to the scheme. Clarity on these stated the INHFA leader “is vital, as this will determine payment rates including the maximum any farmer can expect to get.”
The INHFA President concluded by outlining how the organisation is currently engaging with their members through text, email and virtual meetings prior to any final submission to the DAFM.