Any faith in the Agri-Climate Rural Environmental Scheme (ACRES) is wearing thin among hill farmers and those in special areas of conservation or co-operation areas, as more false promises raise their head, Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) hill farming chair Caillin Conneely has said.

“ACRES is becoming a farce at this stage. We were promised up to €10,500 each year for the five years of the scheme, but it’s looking like we won’t get the colour of it at this stage,” he said.

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue, he added, assured farmers only a few weeks ago that they would get their balancing ACRES payments in June and that approvals for non-productive investments (NPI) would commence in late summer.

"Now these commitments have been watered down and we hear that NPI decision letters are ‘planned to issue before the end of this year’ (up to 12 months after applications closed potentially), and that more than one-third of tranche one applicants will get no balancing payment at all in June,” Conneely said.


He expressed concern about what lies ahead “and how many farmers will find their Areas of Natural Contraint (ANC) or Basic Income Support for Sustainability (BISS) payments cut because of scoring and interim over-payment.”

He described it as a “mess” and “just not acceptable”.

Farm finances

IFA rural development chair John Curran said farm finances have been hit hard due to weather conditions and the Department cannot stand over pulling any over-payment from the next farm payment.

“It might be the easiest option for them to administer, but it isn’t fair on the farmer who entered into this scheme in good faith to undergo necessary actions and be paid amounts owed on time.

"An agreed repayment schedule is needed, on a case-by-case basis, spanning the lifetime of ACRES. Otherwise, we are potentially looking at serious cashflow problems later this year,” he said.

He said that a rethink is needed. “If the ACRES scheme is too complex, change it. Farmers can’t continually be at a loss because the Department can’t issue payments, or approvals, or scores in time, for whatever reason.”

IFA Ulster/north Leinster regional chair and SAC project team chair Frank Brady said the Department should pay all ACRES CP farmers their €10,500 for this year.

“Not getting these extra payments totally undermines farmer confidence in these types of environment schemes. It needs to be resolved quickly.”

He argued that if the Department is talking about building on the good will of farmers to help the environment, this ‘flagship scheme’ is a very poor start.

"I’m calling on the Department to urgently engage with the IFA to clarify current situations and outline how it will be resolved and farmers get what they were promised,” he concluded.