The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), has confirmed that the Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS) will open for applications on the morning of 27 February. Applications to the scheme should be submitted online.
The EFS is DAERA’s new agri-environment scheme under the Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme 2014 – 2020. It has 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 river catchment.
The scheme has been designed to address specific environmental needs, primarily relating to biodiversity and water quality. It is more targeted and focused than previous schemes. It has also been designed to be straightforward for farmers.
Ulster Farmers’ Union Environment chairman, Wilbert Mayne, has welcomed the announcement. “Many farmers will be glad to hear that this long awaited scheme will finally be opening for applications. The scheme is quite different from previous agri-environment schemes and is focused on addressing specific environmental needs, such as biodiversity and water quality. Also, farmers should be aware that it is not a ‘whole farm’ scheme but offers a range of options for farms. Given the changes to the scheme and the need to complete the application online I would encourage farmers to give themselves plenty of time to set up a Government Gateway Account and study the requirements for completing an application,” said Mayne.
The UFU Environment chairman said that some farmers may be frustrated that all applications must be submitted online “The Union recognises that this is far from ideal given that access to broadband is still a significant issue in many rural areas. We have expressed our concern that some potential applicants may be at a disadvantage through no fault of their own. DAERA have given us assurances that they have put additional resources in place to assist farmers with this move to online only applications and the Union is monitoring the situation closely,” said Mayne.