The Basic Payment Scheme remains the most popular scheme among farmers, with almost two thirds (64%) “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the scheme, out of the 569 surveyed in the 2017 Irish Examiner/ICMSA National Opinion Poll.
The EU-funded BPS bankrolls more than 130,000 farmers annually to the tune of more than €1.2bn per year.
Overall satisfaction with the scheme is down 5% from last year, and the number of farmers “very satisfied” with the scheme is down from 34% last year to just 10% this year.
Those “satisfied” with the scheme increased from 35 to 54%.
This result nearly mirrors the 2015 response exactly.
The slump in those “very satisfied” probably reflects farmers feeling the effect of payment convergence, the five-year process by which all BPS entitlements per hectare will reach at least 60% of the BPS national average by 2019.
For those who start out low, entitlements increase over the five years.
But farmers with 2015 entitlements above the national average are seeing the value in excess of the average gradually reduced, to fund the farmers whose entitlements are converging upwards. The poll result indicates the BPS is most popular with farmers aged between 55 and 64 years, larger farmers (80 acres plus), and dairy farmers.
Farmers are very familiar with this very important scheme; however, the 18% “don’t knows” this year is up from 11 and 14% in 2015 and 2016.
A somewhat surprising outcome is that the new Bord Bia Sustainable Beef and Lamb Quality Assurance scheme is the second most popular scheme among farmers.
Over half (55%) of those surveyed are satisfied or very satisfied with the scheme, which was launched in April.
Farmers over 45 are more likely to be “satisfied” with the scheme, with 61% of those aged between 45 and 54 years “satisfied” with the scheme.
The proof of the pudding is that the livestock farmers involved in the scheme are the most satisfied with it, followed by dairy farmers.
A feature of the new scheme is a close-out period of one month, during which farmers can rectify non-compliances in their audit, without losing their Quality Assurance certification status.
The close-out period was warmly welcomed by farmers, along with shorter on-farm audits the new scheme has been well received by farmers.
Farmers may have relatively little experience of the scheme yet, but seem prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt after this year’s reform.
They weren’t asked about its predecessor schemes in previous years of the poll, so no year-on-year comparison is available.
As for all seven schemes farmers were asked about, there seems to be a rump opposed to bureaucracy, with the “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” at 16-23% across the range from greening to Quality Assurance.
The level of satisfaction with Greening has increased by 7% this year, the largest increase in popularity for any scheme, making it the third most popular scheme among farmers this year.
All farmers eligible for payment under the BPS are subject to Greening, which generally imposes major obligations only for the arable sector.
Over 90% of farmers automatically qualify for the Greening payment on the basis of their current farming practices.
The remainder have to undertake specific crop diversification and ecological focus area measures to qualify.
Greening is worth €363,570,00 to Irish farmers in 2017.
The increase in satisfaction continues a gradual improvement year on year, increasing from 37% in 2015 to 44% in 2016 and now 51% in 2017.
While the numbers who are “very satisfied” with Greening fell from 15% last year to 8% this year, the number of those “satisfied” with the scheme increased from 29 to 43%.
There was also a fall in the number of those dissatisfied, from 24% last year to 16% this year, the lowest dissatisfaction level of any scheme. When Greening was first announced, all farmers feared they would have to sow a number of different crops in order to meet the requirements.
However, many were exempted, and deemed to be meeting the requirements of the scheme already, removing the need to sow additional crops or alter rotations, except for tillage farmers, in general.
Like greening, satisfaction with GLAS has increased steadily over the past three years, rising 5% in 2017, to 48%.
Also similar to Greening, the number of those who are “very satisfied” fell, but the number of those who are “satisfied” with GLAS increased from 30% to 41%.
Overall dissatisfaction with the scheme fell from 25 to 20% this year.
Livestock farmers are most satisfied with GLAS, while tillage farmers are the least satisfied.
Farmers aged between 55 and 64 are the most satisfied, with those aged under 35 the least satisfied.
Participants in GLAS tranches 1 and 2 were due to get their first full year of GLAS payments before the end of 2016.
But about one in four was still waiting for the delayed 85% payment (averaging about €4,500) well into the spring of this year, which drew the wrath of farmers and opposition politicians on Agriculture Minister Michael Creed.
However, anger seems to have dissipated by the time the 2017 Irish Examiner/ICMSA National Opinion Poll was taken in August.
The poll results indicate that the Beef Data and Genomics Programme, the Knowledge Transfer Scheme, and the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Schemes (TAMS) are the least popular schemes among farmers.
Satisfaction levels for all three schemes fell this year, by 4, 3, and 1%, respectively.
A year earlier, satisfaction with all three had increased.
Satisfaction ratings slumped most in the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP).
The percentage of those surveyed who are “very satisfied” with the scheme fell from 20% last year to 6% this year.
However, the percentage of those “satisfied” with the scheme increased from 23% to 33%.
The scheme seems most popular with those aged over 55 years, and least popular with those aged 35 to 44 years.
Since the original BDGP got under way in 2015, 5,230 dropped-out, leaving nearly 24,000 still involved.
Nearly 2,000 extra farmers applied to participate when the BDGP was re-opened earlier this year for beef suckler farmers not already members.
It is unlikely that satisfaction will increase next year, with a challenging deadline coming up in October, 2018, for participants to have 20% of their heifers and/or suckler cows genotyped as four or five star on the replacement index.
This may force participants to purchase expensive replacement heifers, and possibly cull some of their existing cows.
Some participants also fail to see why their perceived ‘best’ cow is not actually their best cow, or even rated four or five star based on genotyping results.
However, there is a clear need for a change in the breeding policy in our national suckler cow herd, with an increased focus on efficiency, not least in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The genotyping carried out under the Beef Data Genomics Programme represents the best opportunity of breeding efficient suckler cows that have a role in our national suckler herd going forward.
In the longer term, these are the rewards participants will reap from the scheme.
Livestock farmers seem to better appreciate the scheme’s merits, with a 44% satisfaction rating, compared to 30-31% for dairy and tillage farmers.
The Knowledge Transfer Scheme and the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Schemes (TAMS) are the two least popular schemes among farmers in the 2017 Irish Examiner/ICMSA National Opinion Poll. In line with the rest of the schemes, there was a fall in the number of those “very satisfied” with both schemes, and an increase in those who are “satisfied”.
The dissatisfaction level in both schemes actually fell slightly, but with an increase in the number of those who ‘don’t know’ their level of satisfaction.
Farmers aged between 45 and 64 are most satisfied with the Knowledge Transfer Scheme, while those aged between 35 and 44 least satisfied. Tillage and dairy farmers are slightly more satisfied with the scheme than livestock farmers.
The low level of satisfaction with the Knowledge Transfer Scheme is unsurprising.
Farmers have not received any payment under the scheme yet. The bureaucracy of the scheme has been criticised, and there is confusion over payments to facilitators, and to vets who help with herd health plans.
The deadline for submission of Farm Improvement Plans has had to be extended twice, due to computer issues, with facilitators under pressure to get all plans submitted in time. Some farmers responding in the Irish Examiner/ICMSA National Opinion Poll were undoubtedly worried that their Farm Improvement Plan may not be submitted on time.
Under 35s and tillage farmers are the least satisfied with TAMS, while dairy and livestock farmers are more satisfied with the scheme.
The lower satisfaction rate among tillage farmers is unsurprising, given that they had to wait until March of this year before they could apply to the scheme, and previous TAMs schemes had few measures to support tillage farmers.
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said last week that only 1,592 out of the 13,765 applicants in TAMS had been approved for payment. Applications were at the approved stage for 11,064, and at the claims lodged stage for 2,160.
Fianna Fáil Agriculture Spokesperson Charlie McConalogue said farmers across the country are “very angry at the inexcusable delays in issuing TAMS payments”.
He said farmers are stressed out wondering when they will get their payments. “Many of them are under serious financial strain, urgently needing these payments to ensure that bills are paid”.
If the Department can issue payments faster to participants, it might go some way in improving satisfaction levels with the scheme.