Study highlights benefits of agri-environmental schemes

Improved farm practices, a better quality of life, increased environmental awareness and a greater appreciation of biodiversity and wildlife.

These are some of the benefits of farmer participation in agri-environmental schemes, according to a study undertaken by the National Rural Network.

Pat Bogue looked at the experiences of three farmers, two in Roscommon, and the third in Mayo.

All run small to medium sized drystock farms — sucklers, suckling and sheep, and store to beef. One is running an organic suckler and sheep farm.

Two of the farmers are currently in the Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS 4), while the third was in REPS 1, 2 and 3 and is now in the Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS).

Dr Bogue said it is evident from the study that if farmers buy into the ethos of the environmental scheme and see the merit of undertaking particular actions, they will engage in excess of what is specified in their plan.

“There may be merit in future schemes in providing guidance on measures which farmers could voluntarily undertake in addition to those specified in their plans, further enhancing the natural environment,” he said.

The report highlights the impact of REPS on creating an interest in biodiversity and wildlife.

The report proposes that in view of the impact of current schemes on the development of a safer working environment, future schemes should have a health and safety dimension.

It also recommends that attendance at demonstrations and training should continue to be mandatory in future schemes. The report, Agri-Environmental Schemes on Drystock Farms, is available on the NRN website

Approvals to 6,000 successful applicants under AEOS 3 were recently announced by Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney.

Despite the challenging budgetary position and the limited resources available to his department, he said he had decided to provide e20m annually under the scheme. He said the additional income provided, with a maximum payment of e4,000 per annum, will provide a welcome boost to those farmers operating to high environmental standards.

AEOS is part-funded by the EU under the Rural Development Programme, 2007-2013.

It specifically targets the challenges of halting biodiversity loss, contributing to the improvement of water quality and combating climate change.

Mr Coveney said the contracts will bring the number of Irish farmers participating in agri-environmental schemes to 50,000.

He reminded farmers that they should not undertake any actions listed in their application until approved for participation in the scheme.

Actions undertaken or expense incurred prior to formal approval will not be eligible for reimbursement, he said.

Mr Coveney said while the contract period will be for a period of five years and eight months, the terms and conditions and payment rates for the new participants in the scheme will apply until the end of 2013.

At that stage, participants will have the option of either terminating the contract without penalty or of opting to join whatever scheme may be introduced in the new EU Financial Perspective programming period.

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