The Green Low Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS) is a measure funded by the Rural Development Programme (2014-2020). GLAS promotes practices to assist the preservation of habitats and species as well as addressing the issues of climate change mitigation and water quality, in support of sustainable Irish agriculture.
Since the launch of GLAS tranche 1 in 2015, the Scheme has been extremely successful in terms of uptake with in excess of 50,000 farmers approved into the GLAS scheme over the first three tranches. The Rural Development Programme participation target of 50,000 was exceeded almost two years ahead of schedule.
GLAS is a voluntary Scheme where participants opt to carry out specific environmental commitments for a minimum period of five years. A wide range of actions were available under the scheme, including actions to address climate change and reduce emissions, providing the scope for farmers across all types of farming systems to submit applications and maximise their payment under the scheme. Among the achievements under GLAS are 7,500 hectares of minimum tillage, the planting of 1.6m trees and the planting of 11,000 new hedgerows. It is important to remember, however, that GLAS is not just a climate scheme but has other environmental benefits also in areas such as biodiversity and water quality.
The 2017 Rural Development Programme Evaluation Report found from a baseline counterfactual analysis using Teagasc National Farm Survey data, that GLAS beneficiaries had a lower than average nitrogen surplus and lower level of greenhouse gas emissions than farms outside of the scheme. The high levels of participation have delivered significant benefits that continue to be delivered by GLAS participant farmers.
Improving the environmental status of dairy farms is not just a matter for the GLAS scheme, of course, and there are a range of policies which are playing a role here. For example, dairy farmers as higher users of chemical fertiliser will be influenced by wider policies including new measures proposed for farmers availing of the Nitrates Derogation that are aimed at further strengthening the protection of water and attaining optimum soil fertility consistent with both carbon efficient agricultural production and effective water quality protection. Furthermore, sustainability auditing such as the dairy quality assurance scheme which encompasses almost all dairy farms provides an opportunity to leverage greater action from these farms through market encouragement for evidence of better practice. It is important to consider the full range of levers as well as GLAS that are available to encourage better practice.