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 2017. 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.
The EFS is a voluntary scheme. Farmers and landowners with a DAERA category 1 or 2 Business ID and 3 hectares of land that is eligible for Basic Payment are able to apply. It is not a ‘whole farm’ scheme and offers the farmer choices. With the range of options available there should be something to suit any farm.
Applications will be prioritised to deliver most environmental benefit. Successful applicants will be offered a five year agreement to deliver a range of environmental measures.
The first Wider Level agreements will commence on 1 July 2017 and the first Higher Level agreements will commence on 1 January 2018. The Group Level will be initiated on a pilot basis in 2017, with a view to establishing further Group projects in 2018.
Online Application Process
The Department has developed an innovative and user friendly IT system for the EFS and applications will be made online.
The online application has inbuilt assistance throughout the completion process. This includes access to the applicant’s farm map, option menus, information icons, and error and warning alerts. In addition, it provides the ability to make changes as often as you need throughout the application period, a user guide, and a ‘contact us for assistance’ button.
Online has already proven to be the safest method of application. Not only is it quick and easy to complete, the included safeguards increase the accuracy of the application.
Factors to consider before making an application
There are a number of factors that you will need to consider and actions that you might need to take to get your farm business ready to make an online application.
All applicants to the Scheme must hold either a DAERA Business ID Category 1 or Category 2. Download guidance on how to apply for a DAERA Business ID .
If you are not already registered for DAERA online services, or never applied online before then you will require a DAERA access key, a Government Gateway Account and a valid email address. To find out more about registering for DAERA Online Services you can call on 028 9442 6699, email: [email protected], or Text Easy to 67300.
Alternatively, do you have someone you know who can help you? You can give someone else permission to complete your form online for you. This can be a member of your family, or a friend, or your accountant or an agent. You will need to complete a form to nominate an authorised person or call the EFS Advisory Team on 0300 200 7848.
No access to broadband or IT equipment?
Whilst broadband access for rural dwellers is strong, with an estimated coverage of 80%, excluding mobile and satellite technologies, DAERA recognises that some of our customers require more tailored support and we have therefore put measures in place to assist with submitting applications.
Our 12 DAERA Direct offices will provide free access to broadband. In addition Libraries NI have agreed to facilitate rural applicants with broadband access through any of their 98 libraries across Northern Ireland.
DAERA is providing a range of help and assistance based on individual need:
- Online through the DAERA website;
- Online and telephone through the EFS Advisory Team;
- Email through though the EFS Advisory Team; and
- For those who have difficulties with online, ‘one-to-one’ assistance through appointments at DAERA Direct offices.
The first ‘port of call’ and primary source of information and guidance is the DAERA website. It provides access to the online application form and map, detailed guidance on the scheme, updated frequently asked questions and answers, “how to” videos on the online application processes, contact information, including help available, and up to date press articles.
EFS Advisory Team
The EFS Advisory Team (0300 200 7848), will provide advice and guidance on the scheme and how to apply for it. This Team should be the applicant’s ‘first point of contact’. ([email protected]). Advisors will be able to guide users through the online application process. They will also arrange one to one assistance, where it is necessary.
A ‘safety net’ is in place for those farmers who have difficulties with broadband reception, do not have any IT equipment, or may not be confident in using computers. An EFS Advisor can, in certain circumstances, arrange an appointment in the local DAERA Direct Office (DDO). This appointment will be on a ’one-to-one’ basis and the DAERA Direct Office Advisor will guide the applicant through the application using the online facility.