The messaging reaching farmers on what they are being incentivised to do on their land must be made clear if progress is to be made on restoring nature, Atlantic Technological University (ATU) researcher Dr James Moran has said.

The senior lecturer in ecology stated that farmers are currently hearing mixed messages from policymakers, which complicates the decisions they make when choosing what farm activities to undertake to leave a margin from their land.

Locally-driven results-based payment schemes can provide a way forward in providing farmers with clarity on supports to allow them to make informed land use decisions and a sustainable income from farming, Moran maintains.

“First of all, you need to have a clear direction of where you are going and then if you have a low score, you don’t just leave a farm in isolation, because often the low score is there because of the other objectives of the land,” he told the RDS 'Finding Common Ground' conference on Friday.


The conference heard that these decisions often involve trade-offs between producing food, providing space for nature and planting forestry.

Moran said that farmers not only know the capacity of their land to produce food, but also its ability to provide for nature.

Results-based payments with additional funding to roll out environmental measures for lower-scoring lands would see farmers react to biodiversity incentives, the researcher argued.

“The key thing is a clear vision and a farmer knowing exactly on their land what the potential for production of food, fibre, nature, what is their impacts on water, how they can maybe regulate water, what their contribution is to the overall greenhouse gases in their particular area,” Moran explained.

“You tell a farmer what product you want, they understand the capacity of their land to and they will tell you whether they are able to produce it or not. It is very simple.

“The problem is that at policy level and at a national level, there is still a lot of unknown in terms of what we actually want.”

Moran stated that this policy uncertainty sees farmers hearing conflicting land use messages such as: “Produce more food, don’t produce more food. Put up the sheep on the hills, take down the sheep from the hills. Plant it with trees, don’t plant it with trees.”