Farmers in Northern Ireland have just two weeks left to apply for the Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS), with the deadline set to close on March 31.
More farmers are being urged by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to join the 1,100 who have already submitted their EFS applications or have applications in progress.
Participants in the EFS scheme are offered a 5-year agreement to deliver a range of environmental measures.
The EFS is DAERA’s new agri-environment scheme, under the north’s Rural Development Programme.
Designed to address specific environmental needs, primarily relating to biodiversity and water quality, it is hoped that the scheme will be more targeted and focused than previous schemes.
The scheme will have three levels:
- A Wider Level to deliver benefits across the countryside, outside of environmentally-designated areas.
- A Higher Level, primarily for environmentally-designated sites.
- A Group Level to support co-operative action by farmers in specific areas such as a river catchment.
Planting new hedgerows and rebuilding dry stone walls were very popular options in previous agri-environment schemes, according to DAERA.
These options, together with hedge laying and tree-enhanced boundaries, are again available in the new scheme, it added.
Both hedge planting and hedge laying options require the hedge to be protected with two fences, one on either side of the hedge.
The ‘tree-enhanced boundaries’ option involves the applicant planting eight native trees (protected with guards and stakes) well spaced out every 100m in an established hedge.
An additional grant is available to fence off the existing hedge where the new trees have been planted, DAERA said.
Meanwhile, the dry stone wall rebuilding option is for the repair of single-skin or double-skin walls that are in a very poor state of repair.
The Department has outlined that the full length of the wall claimed under this option must be re-built from the ground up.
Pre-approval checks on the dry stone walls may also be carried out by the Department to check their state of repair.
All the work for these options must be completed by June 1 in the first year of the applicant's agreement. All options must be managed and retained for the duration of the agreement, according to DAERA.
DAERA believes establishing new boundaries and repairing existing ones will make a real difference to a farm.
These repairs will help ensure boundaries are stock-proof, provide shelter for stock, improve biosecurity by limiting nose-to-nose contact with neighbouring herds and support biodiversity, it said.
The Department has developed an IT system for the EFS and applications will be made online.
DAERA has also put in place a number of measures to assist farmers who may not have access to broadband or a computer.
These include offering one-to-one services and free broadband at its 12 direct offices as well as securing the support of 98 libraries across Northern Ireland, which have agreed to facilitate rural applicants by giving them access to their broadband.
Further guidance on how to apply and additional information on the scheme is available on the DAERA website.