*Minister McConalogue had been due to visit Clare but the briefing is now to be held in Dublin. 

FARMING DELEGATIONS from Clare are meeting with the Minister for Agriculture today (Tuesday) amid mounting concerns regarding the Agri Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) and its impact on the county.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue (FF) and Minister of State, Pippa Hackett (GP) will meet Clare farmers from the Burren Programme and the Hen Harrier Project at Agriculture House in Dublin.

Concerns have been raised that farmers will be paid less for carrying out environmental measures under ACRES than under both programmes.

Planned changes to the Burren Programme which is estimated to have contributed €23m to the local economy is feared to see the average Burren farmer lose €7,000 to €8,000 under ACRES.

ACRES Co-operation will be open to around 20,000 farmers in areas of the country which were deemed as being high-priority areas (CP zones), including the Burren and Slieve Aughty.

300 farmers are involved in the Slieve Aughty hen harrier project. The large site extends southwards from just south of Lough Rea in Galway to Scariff, Lough Graney is among the lakes included in the site which covers North-East Clare and South Galway.

Of the 300 farmers, 263 are on the Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS). The combined average payment from GLAS, hen harrier action and the hen harrier project habitat assessment was €7,946, the maximum payment for the same type of actions under ACRES is worth €7,000. Clare farm families involved in the hen harrier project are facing a potential loss of €248,798, local sources have estimated.

Speaking to The Clare Echo, Cllr Pat Hayes (FF) who is part of the delegation visiting Minister McConalogue and Junior Minister Hackett admitted he was “deeply concerned” with ACRES. “It means special projects like the hen harriers is losing its momentum and there is now a high risk that the same buy in from the farmers won’t be in place going forward”.

He said a “significant number of farmers in Slieve Aughty will lose out” if proposed changes are implemented. “This comes at a time of high farming costs,” the Maghera native added. “It has a real affect, we’re seeing changes to CAP programmes and a lot of things, we’re seeing cost of doing basic farming being prohibitive for basic farmers, this was a programme to try support issues around hen harrier programme but it was also sustaining rural communities”.

Designation of Slieve Aughty is posing a “big problem for a lot of people in North-East Clare,” the former Mayor of Clare warned. “It brought some benefits in the past but it now has financial challenges, you can’t plant trees or do a lot of things, the top up was critical and now a special top-up is needed. You can’t place forestry there or sell it now, a big push is needed, if we are to have the carbon footprint for the country and the carbon sync we need to be compensated and particularly people with dedicated land. The momentum you might have gained from farming community is at risk”.

As one of the part-time farmers affected, Cllr Hayes said he can “clearly understand the issues” flagged.

Manager of the Burren Programme, Dr. Brendan Dunford has confirmed that himself and Sharon Parr will be standing down from the ACRES Burren Aran co-operation project (CP). They helped to establish the agri-environmental scheme which was formerly called BurrenLIFE. Their company, HNV Services, won the contract to administer an expanded scheme, which also includes the Aran Islands and East Galway, in May of this year. The scheme had been designed to protect the world-famous ecosystem of the Burren.

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