Almost 19,000 farmers were accepted into ACRES Co-operation in the first tranche of the Scheme.
Suckler beef and sheep are the dominant farm enterprises.
There are also some dairy and tillage farms. These farmers produce beef, milk and lamb and are a source of young stock for finishing on other farms. The low intensity farming carried out in these areas supports High Nature Value (HNV) farmland. These farms deliver high levels of biodiversity and other ecosystem services such as clean water, and high-quality air and soil. These HNV farming systems exist because of the people who farm the land and the way they and the people who came before them managed and maintained that land.
To sustain these outputs we need to support farming and farmers and acknowledge the value of the ecosystem services they deliver.
These farms include some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country.
Environmental Outputs and Payments
Extensive farming systems provide environmental public goods and ecosystem services. These include Biodiversity, Carbon Sequestration and Storage, Landscape and Water regulation. Environmental Public Goods (EPGs) can be described as non-excludable i.e. if the good is available to one person, others cannot be excluded from the benefits it confers and non-rival i.e. if the good is consumed by one person it does not reduce the amount available to others.
The ACRES Scheme seeks to support and reward farmers for the delivery of these public goods. This in turn is derived from the area of the field and the results of an assessment carried out using defined scorecards. There are 10 scorecards, some like Peatland, Grassland, Rough Grazing and Scrub/Woodland are widely distributed. Others such as Corncrake, Chough or Low Input Peat Grassland have a very small footprint.
All of the scorecards have a similar structure. A value is derived by measuring the ecological value of the field, this could be done by using questions on the number or abundance of positive indicator species. Against this, the field could lose marks for damaging activities, e.g. dumping or for harmful features such as invasive species. The higher the score the higher the payment, a score of 10/10 gives a payment of €400/ ha, a lower score pays less, for example a score of 5 pays €175/ha. A score of 3 or less does not pay at all. The farmers can bring this as far as they wish, the farmer decides what their priorities are for each field. Perhaps on one field they will decide to adjust management practices to increase their score and their payment, while on another they have a production priority and accept that the score will remain low. The decision is theirs to make.
The scores are much more than just a way to calculate a payment. They are a signpost for how to do better. On almost every field there are opportunities to do better, removing self-sown conifers on peatland or longer rest periods for grassland, there are options. The choice however is always with the farmer, we will make suggestions but the farmer makes the decisions.
Non-Productive Investments and Landscape Actions will be available for a farmer to get support for actions to improve the score and their habitat payment. For example, a field with a low score due to under grazing could get support to improve boundary fencing and to provide drinking water for livestock. This could facilitate an improvement in grazing management practices and deliver a higher scoring sward.