New Environmental Farming Scheme opens in Northern Ireland

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has announced that the Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS) Wider Level will open for applications from Monday, August 19.

Applications close on September 20, 2019, with those successful to be offered a five-year agreement starting on January 1, 2020.

EFS Wider Level includes a range of measures that farmers can undertake to enhance biodiversity, improve water quality, and mitigate against climate change. Farmers choose which options they prefer, depending on their preferences or farm type.

The full range of options can be found on the DAERA EFS Wider page.

Unlike previous agri-environment schemes, the EFS requires much of the work to be completed and claimed by June 1 of the first year of the agreement. Applicants should, therefore, be confident that you can complete all the work you will be required to do within the stated time periods.

Applicants must have access to DAERA’s online services. If you need help to access DAERA Online Services contact your local DAERA Direct Office on 0300 200 7848 or 0300-200-7840.

Ulster Farmers’ Union environment chairman, Wilbert Mayne said: “The Environmental Farming Scheme focuses on addressing specific environmental needs.

“The usual options are available, including arable options, hedge planting and laying and fencing off watercourses.

Farmers should be aware that it is not a ‘whole farm’ scheme but offers a range of options which most should be able to avail of.

“It is important that farmers look at the options carefully, check that they can meet all the conditions and do not over-commit themselves in terms of the amount of work that needs to be done within the timescales of the scheme.”

However, Mayne raised some concerns about the scheme – in particular, the cap set for the wider scheme based on land area.

“Farmers were led to believe that they would be eligible for the maximum grant amount regardless of farm size. However, on application, the limits were usually much lower with only extremely large farms able to receive the maximum grant,” he said

“Many farmers considered doing additional works on their farm but were unable to due to the cap based on their land area.

Farmers who wish to carry out environmental works beyond the capped level for their farms should have the opportunity to do so.

“This would help to ensure more environmental funding gets out to local farmers and more environmental works are carried out,” said Mayne.

The UFU has also asked DAERA to reconsider the requirement to carry out all capital works in year one of the scheme. Mayne said this can put tremendous pressure on a farm business and also limits the amount of environmental work which can be carried out.”