The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has announced a further extension of the Northern Ireland pilot Protein Crop Scheme to the end of 2026.

The extended pilot scheme will run for the 2024 – 2026 scheme years, with the aim of assessing the environmental and sustainability benefits which protein crops can deliver.

The maximum supported area will increase from 1,000ha to 1,300ha to allow for continued evolution of the market and supply chains, the department said.

Under the scheme, farmers will receive £330/ha in addition to their Basic Payment/Farm Sustainability Payment.

Farmers interested in applying for the Protein Crop Scheme next year can do so via the annual Single Application in 2024.

Pilot scheme

The pilot Protein Crop Scheme was introduced in 2021 for an initial period of two years and then extended for a further year.

The department said this was done with the intention that the approach would then be reviewed and possibly refined for subsequent years to “maximise the economic and environmental benefits”.

Since the commencement of the pilot scheme, the area of protein crops grown has increased to 784ha across 126 farms, with spring beans being the most popular crop.

The crop is used to supplement protein sources in livestock rations.

An evaluation of the initial pilot has been completed which has identified further potentially significant environmental benefits and opportunities which need further investigation, DAERA said.

These include potential reductions in crop nutrient applications, the provision of a food source for pollinator species and benefits to soil condition and health.