The Dept of Agriculture has awarded a contract to evaluate the GLAS scheme to ADAS Ltd, an English based agri-environmental consultancy company. The total value of the contract has been published on the e tenders web site as €1, 220, 000 excluding VAT. The contract will extend over the life of the GLAS scheme with a final report expected in 2020. The principal objective of the project is to carry out a study of the effectiveness of the scheme on selected farms with a view to assessing the schemes effectiveness. The understanding gained is to be used in informing the development of the next RDP. All of the principal measures within the scheme will be assessed but the greatest priority is to be given to Farmland Habitats, Farmland Birds and Commonages in that order.
While the details of the individual tenders are not available to us, we must assume that the successful firm met all of the Dept. of Agriculture's criteria for the award and that they have a thorough understanding of what is required. It is interesting to note that there were only two applications for the contract, although it was well advertised in the Official Journal of the European Union. It is however a very specialised project with (for the scale of it) a rather meagre budget. In any case we must assume that ADAS know what they are getting into and are up to the task.
The award of this contract is potentially a very useful development and should be welcomed by all. The biggest failing in agri-environment schemes in this country has always been a failure to establish if the schemes are achieving their objectives. The big unanswered question about REPS and AEOS has always been did they achieve anything at all? Was there any real point to the schemes as they were designed and implemented? Without answering these very fundamental questions the Dept. of Agriculture could not have had the understanding necessary to improve on them.
Both of those schemes had plenty of compliance inspections, in both REPS and AEOS the Dept were more than willing to dish out penalties for various forms of non compliance, but no one ever asked was there any point to some of the prescriptions? Was there any benefit to the farmer or to the environment of the many restrictions in those schemes? Were they in many cases counterproductive?
As regards commonages and farming in the uplands, did some of the requirements of past schemes, particularly in respect of cattle cause more harm than good? Did they have unintended consequences which contributed to the decline of stock numbers on commonages and uplands. Consequences which in hindsight, we can see are at centre of the land eligibility issues and wildfire issues that we face today. If the appointment of contractors to evaluate GLAS on an ongoing basis means that someone will be answering these questions and that the understanding gained will feed into the design of the next RDP than that is a very good thing.
As regards the decision to outsource this work, I think this was unavoidable. The Dept of Agriculture could not have done this work themselves, the people involved would have been far too close to the initial design, and they could not be expected to be fully objective or independent in their assessment. Just as important, the use of Dept. of Agriculture staff would have blurred the lines between compliance checking and the evaluation of the scheme. In short, the use of DAFM staff in this role would not have been effective and would not be seen as effective by any of the other stakeholders.
As regards the successful contractors, I wish them well on the task they are undertaking, I hope that other stakeholders, farmers and their representatives, farm advisors and Dept of Agriculture staff will assist them in any way they can. If this project is successful it will be to everyone’s benefit.