Kirwan Agriconsultants Ltd.
Article for August
We return this week to a document which like the Book of Kells is I’m sure much admired and often looked at in places but rarely read by any one from beginning to end and in which an awful lot of effort seems to have been put, that is the Terms and Conditions of the Rural Environmental Protection Scheme(REPS). It was introduced by the Minister of Agriculture in implementation of Council Regulations EC no1698/2005.
The first thing we noticed about it is that the official launch date ahead of the scheme is the 11th August 2007, at the time of writing 30th August whilst an application form and the terms and conditions had been posted on the website, little else is available to planners or to farmers. This of course is to be expected given the time of year that’s in it and hopefully once September arrives, everyone will hit the ground running and submission of the first REPS plan can’t be too far away. Having waited since last January for this scheme we can not presume we’ll wait another few weeks before the first plan is submitted. Although the ongoing man power shortages in the local AES offices will I am sure will lead to further delays in processing of the initial REPS applications.
We will begin with a few definitions, first of all in order to join REPS, one has to be a farmer and a farmer means an individual agricultural producer, whether a natural or legal person or a group of natural or legal persons whatever legal status is granted to a group or its members by national law, whose holdings is in the state. In simple terms this means any farmer, partnership or company farming land within the Republic. The definition of farming can include Dairy Farming, Livestock production, Cultivation of fodder and tillage crops and growing of horticulture and energy crops and a farm or holding means all the production units in the state whether they are owned, leased or rented that are under the control of the applicant, rented in this case meaning lands taken and farmed for periods of less than five years. The contract area for REPS shall mean all lands farmed by the applicant which meet the eligibility conditions that are set out in the document. Now we turn to eligibility, to be eligibility to participate in the scheme a farmer must first of all be farming at least 3 hectares owned or leased land excluding commonage and grazing rights or a minimum of 1 hectare in the case of small scale fruit or vegetable producers. He/she must have a minimum of stocking rate of .1 livestock unit per forage hectare of animals owned by the applicant subject to certain exceptions. This is the equivalent of one ewe per hectare. You must be aged 18 years or over on the date of application and agree to implement for a minimum of 5 years to measures outlined in his or her plan. It is essential that it must include all land farmed, where it’s owned, lease or rented or used in his/her plan and must declare all land on an SPS application. His/hers application must also have a PPS number, herd number , flock number , cereal/SPS no on the application form and most importantly must have a farming unit which has not in the opinion of the Minister or his or her officials have been created for the purpose of claiming or increasing payments under the schemes. In other words split holding are not allowed.
The objectives of the REPS are to promote ways of using agricultural land compatible with protection and improvement of the environment, biodiversity etc etc., to promote environmentally favourably farming systems, the conservation of high nature farm environments that are under threat, up keep of historical features on agricultural land and the use of environmentally planning in farm practice. Other objectives include protection against land abandonment which may well become more relevant if the squeeze on or if the lack of probability in farming continues. The sustaining of the social fabric in rural communities and to contribute to positive environmental management of farm matures 2000. Applicants must use an approved planner to prepare applications, a planner is defined as a person qualified and approved by the Department for purpose of these schemes. Planners are subject to conditions of approval set down by the Department; they require a minimum of B.Ag Science or equivalent profession and qualifications and need to have completed training courses at the Department. The list of approved planners can be obtained from the Department or contacting the Agricultural Consultants Association. If the plan included a mature 2000 land the input of approved Environmentalist or Ecologist is also required. Whilst the farmer is free to choose any planner he wishes from the list, it is obviously advisable to obtain the help available and to ensure that your planner carries Professional Indemnity Insurance.
ACA members are required to annually to provide evidence of their Professional Indemnity Cover and also required to have minimum levels of professional experience. The Terms and Conditions also go on to outline the application procedure, the measures to be undertaken, and the various supplementary measures available, the procedures to follow when plans need to be amended, several pages on changes in contract area, payment procedures etc, etc. All of this we can deal at another time. An interesting note at the very end of the Terms and Conditions is a short paragraph which states under the heading Interpretation, which states that the Department may expand upon, explain, interpret on any aspect of the terms and conditions of the scheme, the farmers handbook or specification for planners in other words the 35 separate headings and all contained with them whilst in plain English are non the less subject at any time to the interpretation of the Minister and the Department. This to a certain extent leaves leaves us all at the tender mercy of the Department and Officials. Sometimes this can work to your advantage and sometimes it can work against you. Each of the schemes as we have seen in the pass has leaded to excess penalties and difficulties with the scheme so perhaps we shouldn’t be too critical of this particular paragraph. Although like most areas of life it works very well when there is trust in all sides but could be subject to abuse.
A quick note on penalties, thankfully the rate of penalties have been greatly reduced in this scheme. There are two full pages on the terms and conditions covering all the measures. Many of the penalties have been reduced to 1-3% for a first offence. Some of the most serious ones have been reduced from 100-50% again for first offence. This is a major improvement on the scheme which has not been highlighted before and certainly should lead to a lot more good will on the ground as many farmers have previously paid high penalties for simple offences. Obviously repeat offenders will be penalised more severely but that is to be expected for the credibility and integrity of the scheme.
I will end with annex 4 which is the section of most interest and probably the most consulted part of it i.e. this deals with payment rates. The payment rates are €234 a hectare on the 1st 20 hectares (50 acres). €205 a hectare for the next 20 hectares up to 40 and €82 a hectare for the next 15, that is up to 55 hectares and €10 per hectare after that. For NHA land the payment is €282 for the 1st 40 hectares, €29 for the next 40 hectares, €22 for the next 40 hectares and €5 for anyone with more than 120 hectares. There are also extra payments for Rare Breeds, Riparian Zones, Linnet, Low-input tillage, Minimum Tillage, Traditional Orchards, Traditional Grazing, Mixed Grazing, Lake-Catchments Area, Clover Swards, and the Corncrake. There are various limitations on the supplementary measures the farmer can take on pending on his farm income and on what part of the country he is in and so on. But over 17% increase in payment, reduced penalties leave this REPS 4 a very attractive scheme and one that has to be considered by all dry-stock and most tillage farmers who are concerned about increasing farm profitability.