Messages from our RBAPS farmers

Farmer meeting Athlone MArch 2017

Meeting with participating RBAPS farmers in Athlone, Ireland, March 2017, to gather farmer’s perspectives.

In advance of our RBAPS seminar in Brussels on March 30th, a meeting was held with participating in Ireland.  16 Farmers attended (7 from Leitrim and 9 from the Shannon Callows). We had a great discussion (almost 3 hours!); lots of interest in how agri-environmental schemes need to be designed going forward.  We had mostly positive messages about the RBAPS pilot with everyone attending the meeting wanting to see this approach going forward (on a whole farm scale).  There were also a few concerns raised.  The following covers the main points raised by the farmers themselves:

Farmers thoughts on…

Results-based approach

  • Farmers like the principle that farmers producing higher quality environment products are awarded with higher payments.
  • Farmers enjoyed the training aspect of the pilot, as it gave them the opportunity to learn about nature on their farm and aided their understanding of the scheme measures and aims.
  • Most farmers are very happy to see the biodiversity outputs they have produced.
  • Farmers find the local advisory element helpful in building trust, in understanding what they are being asked to produce and why, and ultimately helps to achieve the scheme objectives.
  • Farmers felt that schemes like this can make them more conscious about positive environmental management in general.
  • The results-based approach gives them flexibility to farm. However, farmers with SAC/SPA designations considered that they still have constraints on the way they can farm.
  • There is a risk to the farm’s financial management as participants don’t know in advance how much they would receive from the scheme (but acknowledge other markets are the same).
  • The targeted nature of the scheme, and the way it fits with existing practices and the landscape in general is liked by farmers.

RBAPS scoring system:

  • Self-scoring might be an issue: some farmers happy to do it, others are not comfortable with it, and others need more time to get to know the scheme and the indicator plants etc.
  • Farmers feel scoring is a big responsibility!
  • Farmers feel that not every farmer would be able to score their own fields
  • Farmers getting 10/10 are very happy and proud of what they produced! 🙂
  • Not getting 10/10 feels like a penalty for some farmers; and farmers with only low scores feel disappointed 😦
  • Farmers would like that any possibility to improve scores through management be included in scheme design (whether on-going management or once-off actions).
  • Some farmers feel that they should be able to achieve the top score on all land within the timeframe of the scheme.
  • Farmers want certainty that the tiered score categories and their corresponding payment rates are fair and reflect the actual management costs.

Natural variation

Farmers want scheme elements to be within their control, and take account of local conditions and external factors, such as weather which can affect their final score.

Where natural constraints (i.e. wetter parts of meadows aren’t as species rich as drier areas) may make achieving the top score difficult, some farmers see this as a potential disadvantage and expect a well-designed scheme to take this into account. Other farmers indicated that they would accept that natural constraints mean they cannot achieve top scores.

Extreme weather or natural disaster:

  • Need a safety net for years when extreme bad weather or natural disasters cause decrease in habitat outside the control of the farmer
  • Farmers suggest that in the instance of natural disaster that the payment should be based on the previous years’ score

Payments

In general farmers understand the link between the score as the indicator of quality, and the payment level (however, see the points above regarding scores).

Some farmers suggested a well-funded prescription-based scheme might be more attractive than a results-based scheme.

Payments and forestry:

Farmers in Leitrim felt that this scheme (or other AES) can’t compete with forestry grants being offered (which will also impact upon the biodiversity objectives in HNV areas). For example, forestry annual payments are paid at much higher rates, are tax free, are paid over longer periods (15 years) and farmers who afforest can still claim Pillar 1 basic payments on this land.

General messages from farmers

  • Continuity of agri-environment schemes is essential. Schemes should be offered on long-term basis (7-10 years at least), with clear, standards/targets and no temporal gaps between scheme tranches.
  • Agri-environment schemes provide vital support for farmers with less productive farmland
  • Farmers are getting mixed messages from CAP Pillar 1 and Pillar 2, particularly in terms of land eligibility
  • Farmers feel that a well-designed, locally adapted and flexible agri-environment schemes will improve farmer engagement in the delivery of agri-environment measures
  • Farmers want agri-environment schemes to put the farmer, their skills, knowledge and expertise at the centre of delivering public goods
  • Some farmers liked that they did not have to enter their whole farm into the scheme and others would prefer to include their entire farm.
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