It has been an important week for farm scheme payments following the announcement of payments under five schemes including Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) balancing payments, the Young Farmer Scheme and National Reserve, Sheep Welfare Scheme and Organic Farming Scheme.
Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue, announced on Wednesday that the balancing payments under the 2021 BPS and Greening have begun on schedule, bringing the total under the 2021 scheme to €1.12bn paid to almost 121,000 farmers.
Minister McConalogue said: “Since mid-October, my Department has paid out €769m in BPS advance payments to over 118,000 farmers. Some 97% of all eligible farmers have received a 70% advance payment. I am happy to confirm that the 30% balancing payments under the BPS have now commenced and are on schedule.”
The minister also confirmed that payments under the 2021 National Reserve and the Young Farmers Scheme also started on Wednesday.
“Both payments play a crucial role in supporting young farmers and new entrants to farming. Payments will be visible in farmers’ bank accounts in the coming days and the Department will continue to process, as a matter of urgency, all remaining cases for payment as any outstanding queries are addressed.”
There will be significant changes to the National Reserve in 2022, with the Department of Agriculture confirming to the Irish Farmers Journal that the off-farm income limit is being removed from the list of eligibility criteria, along with the removal of the land area limit.
Under the current scheme, applicants had to have an off-farm income level of less than €40,000, while the maximum area eligible for inclusion was 50ha.
The Department said the decision came as a result of an audit finding against Ireland by the European Commission.
Balancing payments under the Areas of Natural Constraints (ANC) Scheme are due to begin next week, with payments under the Protein Aid Scheme and the Straw Incorporation Measure also due in December.
Farmers wishing to contact the Department regarding their BPS or ANC payments, can ring the Direct Payments Helpline at 057-867 4422.
Farmers can also submit any queries they may have online via https://agfood.agriculture.gov.ie/sso-auth-ui-applicant/#/login, where a detailed breakdown of payments can be accessed.
Sheep Welfare Scheme
Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue also made payment announcements last Friday under the Sheep Welfare Scheme. The Department’s weekly payments update shows €15.62m was paid to 17,665 participating farmers.
The payment is for year five of the scheme and will is worth 85% of the total payment a farmer will receive, with balancing payments taking place in quarter two of 2022 once the necessary checks have been approved by the European Commission.
Many farmers will see a change to this year’s payment due to a new reference year being selected.
Farmers will be paid on the higher of the ewe number they recorded in the 2017 sheep census or the original reference number, which is an average of the 2014 and 2015 sheep census returns.
The minister said: “It will mean an increased payment for 11,500 farmers under the scheme and no one will see their payment being reduced because of this change.
The change to the reference year better reflects the level of activity on participants’ farms given the passage of time since the introduction of the scheme in 2016. For those who joined as new entrants, the reference year is being updated to 2019.”
The minister said he has secured funding for an additional year of the SWS, which will open in February 2022 with another opportunity for “new entrants to sheep farming to join the scheme”.
He urged any farmers with outstanding queries to respond to the Department immediately in order to facilitate payment.
Organic Farming Scheme
Minister of State for Agriculture Senator Pippa Hackett also announced last Friday that €4m in advanced payments will be issued to 1,000 farmers under the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS).
The Department’s scheme payment update shows 885 participants receiving the €4m in payments.
This relates to 85% of farmers’ total payments and the 15% balancing payment is expected to be made in May 2022.
The minister of state said: “One of our clear commitments to farmers is to issue scheme payments when they are due and I am delighted to say that these payments are issuing on schedule again this year.
“This continues my Department’s performance this year of commencing all scheme payments on time.”
Senator Hackett said she is reopening the scheme in January 2022 for new applicants to join the 1,765 organic farmers currently participating in the scheme.
“Farmers can qualify for annual payments of up to €220 per hectare during the conversion period and up to €170 per hectare when they have achieved full organic status.” Higher payments will remain for tillage and horticulture farmers to try to incentivise a greater uptake.
Senator Hackett advised anyone interested in joining to contact their agricultural adviser or organic control body at this stage to begin the process.
She also outlined that the Department has offered an OFS contract extension up to the end of 2022 to any participant whose contract was due to expire at the end of this year.
“I would strongly encourage anybody who has not yet responded to this extension offer to contact the Department as soon as possible.
“In the meantime, we will continue to issue payments each week,” she concluded.