An early estimate by the Department of Agriculture has shown that 13pc farmers have opted out of Eco-Schemes.
Speaking at the Agricultural Consultants Association (ACA) AGM in Portlaoise on Thursday, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue revealed that further analysis shows that many of these farmers had in excess of 10pc Space for Nature, making them fully eligible, without having to take any action.
In the first two weeks of BISS being opened approximately 2,500 farmers submitted their BISS, ANC, Eco-Schemes applications.
“Follow-up phone calls to a sample of these identified they did not realise they had opted out of the Eco-Schemes,” Minister McConalogue said.
“The vast majority were submitted by farmers themselves rather than through an advisor.”
Department Principal Officer for Direct Payments David Buckley said farmers were confusing Eco-Schemes with ACRES.
“[It’s] a failing on our behalf that they didn’t know what Eco-Schemes are. If you’re ticking the box you’re foregoing the payment. We will contact the 400 farmers to see if they really meant to opt out,” Mr Buckley said.
At the ACA event, Minister McConalogue also confirmed that his Department will open TAMS 3 for animal welfare applications on Thursday.
TAMS is also set to open for pigs, poultry and organics in the next 10 days.
The Minister gave indication that he would seek additional funding for the expansion of ACRES when its second tranche opens later on this year.
Minister McConalogue had budgeted for 50,000 farmers to be accepted into the scheme and with 46,000 getting the go ahead to date, this currently leaves 4,000 places up for grabs.
The Minister said the further expansion of the scheme is “something we have to engage with further.”
Minister McConalogue also confirmed that the new Knowledge Transfer (KT) Programme will commence on 1 January 2024.
The process will kick off in June this year with the expression of interest for advisors to act as facilitators.
The KT groups will not be limited to the type of enterprise farmers in each group as it was in the last KT Programme.
“Rather, the groups will be allowed flexibility to be formed in line with local needs,” Minister McConalogue said.
“We are in discussions on the payment model for the new KT Programme and the Department will update ACA members as soon as discussions have concluded.”