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New Eco-Schemes Announced

The Department of Agriculture announced last week, a number of significant amendments to their proposals for Pillar 1 Eco Schemes.

The expanded list of Eco-schemes is in response to the concerns raised by ICOS and other stakeholder organisations regarding the lack of options, in particular for commercial dairy farmers.

The proposed list of Eco-schemes is now as follows, with farmers required to complete 2 measures to access the full payment:

  • Space for Nature – at least 7% of a farmer’s holding must be devoted to biodiversity, habitats or landscape features.
  • If a farmer increases this commitment to 10%, it is then considered to be 2 actions, qualifying the farmer for the full eco-scheme payment.
  • Extensive Livestock Production – with a stocking rate between 0.15 – 1.5 LU/hectare.
  • Limiting Chemical Nitrogen Usage – to a maximum of 73kg per hectare.
  • This measure has now been expanded to also accommodate more intensive commercial farmers who limit their chemical nitrogen use to a lower level, based on their stocking rate in the previous calendar year, with the following provisional figures proposed:
Grassland stocking rate in 2022 (kgs organic nitrogen per ha) Max permitted application of chemical nitrogen in 2023* (kgs per ha)
<90 73
91-130 89
131-170 165
171-210 240
>210 214

Compliance with both measures will be checked through the Department’s Fertiliser Register which will be established in 2023.

  • Planting of Native Trees – with the basic requirement of at least three trees per eligible hectare each year. It is now additionally proposed that a farmer can opt to plant 1 meter of hedgerow instead of three trees per hectare.
  • If a farmer doubles this commitment, i.e., 6 trees or 2 meters of hedgerow per hectare, it is then considered to be 2 actions, qualifying the farmer for the full eco-scheme payment.
  • Use of a GPS-controlled Fertiliser Spreader – including GPS controlled sprayers where they are used to apply liquid fertilisers and/or plant protection products.
  • Soil Sampling and, where appropriate liming on all eligible hectares. This action can be chosen once every three years in line with Teagasc guidance regarding the appropriate intervals between soil samples being taken. However, derogation farmers, which are required to undertake these practices, cannot qualify for this eco-scheme.
  • Enhanced Crop Diversification- where a farmer has a crop diversification requirement, s/he must plant a break crop (beans, peas, oilseed rape or oats) as their second or third crop. Where a farmer has a 2-crop requirement, the break crop must account for at least 25% of the arable area. Where a farmer has a 3-crop requirement, the break crop must also account for at least 25% of the arable area.
  • Sowing of a Multi Species Sward – on at least 6% of eligible hectares

ICOS welcomes the new flexibilities and measures added to the list of proposed eco-schemes, which go some way towards addressing the concerns which we have raised over the last number of weeks and which make the scheme more feasible to be taken up by dairy farmers across the country. However, we reiterate our disappointment that the use of milk recording was not reinstated on the list as a measure to contribute towards better animal welfare, combatting anti-microbial resistance and provide greenhouse gas emission reduction benefits. Measures to improve animal health and welfare have been included within the proposed eco-scheme list of a number of other EU countries and Ireland should equally have such an option available to its livestock farmers.

Alison Graham – European Affairs Executive