Farmers in environment protection scheme increased incomes by 40%


Farmers who stayed out of the Rural Environment Protection Scheme experienced a decline of 1 per cent in their incomes between 1994 and 1998, according to an analysis by Teagasc.

In contrast, farmers who chose to participate in the scheme, farming in an environmentally sensitive way, increased their incomes by 40 per cent.

The figures were given at Johnstown Castle last week during a conference organised by Teagasc, the agriculture and food development authority, on the performance of the REPS scheme. The analysis was carried out by Mr Oliver McEvoy, who found that farmers in the scheme spent 12 per cent less on fertiliser during the period.

Fertiliser cost in the scheme averaged £17 per acre in 1998 compared with £23 per acre on similarly stocked farms outside the scheme. The reduced fertiliser spend came despite an increase in the number of farms in which the scheme operated.

"Even with increased stock numbers, the REPS farms were still within the fertiliser limits laid down in the scheme, and the farmers were able to farm efficiently by using less input than when they had lower stock rates," said Mr McEvoy.

His analysis also showed a noticeable decline in the use of pesticides on tillage farm which had joined in the scheme. Expenditure on REPS tillage farms in 1998 averaged £26 per acre compared with £34 per acre on tillage farms not in the scheme.

He found, however, that the cost of building and general farm maintenance had increased on REPS farms.

This, he said, had positive implications for improved visual appearance of the countryside, protection of water quality and support for wildlife and habitats. "Overall, farmers who joined REPS are now in a better position financially in spite of increased investment in pollution control and in improving the farming landscape," he said.

Mr Matt Sinnott of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development told the conference there were now 43,000 farmers participating in the scheme, farming a total of 3.75 million acres or over 30 per cent of total farmland.

The conference heard that progress on drawing up farming plans for commonages in Special Areas of Conservation and National Heritage Areas has been slow.

Farmers in the designated "degraded" counties are unhappy with the levels of compensation being offered for de-stocking lands and with many other aspects of the scheme.