As many as 46,000 farmers have applied for the first tranche of the new ACRES scheme, the Farming Independent understands.
Despite criticism of the scheme by farm organisations and opposition TDs, the scheme's first tranche, which closed to applications last week, is set to be massively over-subscribed heaping pressure on the Government to find more funding.
Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue secured funding in Budget 2023 to accept 30,000 farmers into the first tranche of the scheme, which means some 16,000 farmers could miss out on a payment next year.
However, should more funding not be secured for the first tranche of the scheme, the primary ranking process within ACRES is through its Tier Structure: Tier 1 receives priority over Tier 2, which in turn receives priority over Tier 3.
The Farming Independent understands as many as 18,000 applications have been made by farmers who will be in the co-operation element of the scheme, which will be ranked in Tier 1 of the scheme and should get automatic access.
Concerns have been raised that the high numbers in this category could mean not all Tier 2 applicants may get access to the first tranche of the scheme should the overall numbers remain capped at 30,000.
It is also understood that there is now unease that the management teams organising the ACRES scheme roll out in co-operation areas may not have the capacity to cater for all those that apply.
Within, Tier 2 priority is given to applicants in the following order: 1: Farmers whose lands are known to be in a vulnerable water area 2: Intensive farmers that choose a priority action and 3: Farmers that are participants in specified forestry schemes or who commit to one of the tree planting actions.
The third way the Department could rank applications is through the application of specific selection criteria, with each farmer receiving a specific score.
With agri-environment schemes accounting for a significant proportion of the income of many farmers, farm organisations are likely to heap pressure on the Government to accept the applications of all those that applied for the first tranche.
Further, the Government will also be aware of the demands to urgently increase climate and biodiversity action in the agriculture sector and the potential for negative publicity to be generated by refusing farmers access to its flagship €1.5bln agri-environmental scheme in year one.