The Ulster Farmers’ Union environment chairman has urged farmers to apply for the Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS) Wider Level but added that the UFU has a number of concerns about the programme.
Wilbert Mayne was commenting on the scheme after DAERA announced that applications will open on Monday, August 19 and run to September 20.
EFS Wider Level contains a range of measures that farmers can undertake on farm to enhance biodiversity, improve water quality, and mitigate against climate change. Farmers choose which options they prefer, depending on their individual preferences or farm type.
Mr Mayne said: “The Environmental Farming Scheme focuses on addressing specific environmental needs. The usual options are available, including arable options, hedge planting and laying and fencing off watercourses. Farmers should be aware that it is not a ‘whole farm’ scheme but offers a range of options which most should be able to avail of.
“I would encourage farmers to consider the scheme and give themselves plenty of time for completing an application. It is important that farmers look at the various options carefully, check that they can meet all the conditions and do not over-commit themselves in terms of the amount of work that needs to be done within the timescales of the scheme.
“We have repeatedly raised these issues with DAERA and asked them to find solutions. In particular, the cap set for the wider scheme based on land area has frustrated many farmers. Farmers were led to believe that they would be eligible for the maximum grant amount regardless of farm size. However, on application the limits were usually much lower with only extremely large farms able to receive the maximum grant.
“Many farmers considered doing additional works on their farm but were unable to due to the cap based on their land area. This must be reconsidered. Farmers who wish to carry out environmental works beyond the capped level for their farms should have the opportunity to do so. This would help to ensure more environmental funding gets out to local farmers and more environmental works are carried out,” said Mr Mayne.
The UFU has also asked DAERA to re-consider the requirement to carry out all capital works in year one of the scheme. Mr Mayne says this can put tremendous pressure on a farm business and also limits the amount of environmental work which can be carried out.
The last year for farmers to be able to sign up to the EFS will be 2020.