Archive for the ‘Tom Dawson’ Category

REPS – the environmental benefits

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

Irish Farmers Journal

By Tom Dawson, John Bligh, James Carton and Ian Kenny

REPS was introduced in 1994, and over the past 15 years, 60,000 Irish farmers have participated in the scheme. Over these years, the environmental improvements that have occurred in the Irish landscape are plain to be seen. REPS obliges participants to exceed National and EU environmental regulations.

In this article, we attempt to quantify the economic benefit of some of these environmental improvements. The Irish landscape, which for the most part is a farm landscape, is generally appreciated by us all, from the farming community to rural and urban dwellers and foreign visitors alike. The preservation of the existing environment and its enhancement through planting hedges, trees and creating habitats, can be attributed in the main to REPS. It is possible to put a value on this enhancement.

A 2004 study*, entitled ‘Putting a Value on the Farm Landscape’, was written by Tomás O’Leary and Art McCormack of the Faculty of Agri-food and Environment, UCD. They carried out a study on 44 farms nationally in order to assess the landscape benefits of REPS.

Twenty seven of these farms were in REPS, while the remainder were similar farms but not REPS participants. It then estimated the resulting economic value of these improvements, based on the general public’s preference for improved landscape and appearance when compared to the non-REPS farms.

The following discussion relies heavily on the results of this study, which was commissioned by the Department of Agriculture and Food.

REPS versus non-REPS farms

REPS farms achieved higher results in terms of positive landscape assessment compared to the non-REPS farms in the study, clearly indicating the effectiveness of the scheme in terms of landscape quality. Figure 1 shows that farms in REPS were mostly at the upper end of the so called Landscape Aesthetic Quality Score, while non-REPS farms were mainly at the lower end.

Valuation of Maintained or Improved Landscape

Aside from financial benefits to participants in the scheme, REPS offers a range of environmental benefits to society. To date, REPS have been the only economic policy incentive for farmers to enhance the landscape contribution of their holdings. These benefits include improved water quality, the visual value of the rural landscape, wildlife preservation and the preservation of habitats and features of historical interest.

The study used a standard evaluation method known as the ‘willingness to pay principle’ (WTP) to measure the value put on a variety of landscape characteristics attributable to REPS by a sample group of urban and rural dwellers. These characteristics were identified by the authors in conjunction with landscape experts as being key features of the REPS ideal.

Landscape benefits

Total landscape benefits arising from REPS exceeded €150m in 2003. Assessing whether REPS offers value for money also requires an examination of the costs associated with it.

In 2003, total expenditure on REPS, adding together payments under REPS1 and REPS2 and administration and inspection costs, was approximately €195m. Landscape benefits alone, were worth 78% of the total cost of REPS in 2003.

Biodiversity

With the introduction of REPS3 and subsequently REPS4, biodiversity in the landscape became a more important feature of the scheme. The basic 11 measures of the scheme lead to greater landscape improvements, with enhanced biodiversity.

These biodiversity options shown below are implemented by participants in the scheme. Figures are not available for the options selected in REPS4. However, the trends evident from REPS3 can be extrapolated to REPS4. These biodiversity options are ‘additional’, in the sense that they exceed basic cross-compliance obligations and could well be lost.

High value

In general, the study suggests that the public attaches a high value to landscape improvement measures under REP schemes. However, landscape improvement is not the only environmental benefit resulting from REPS.

Improved quality of drinking water, biodiversity, enhanced recreational opportunities, as well as reduced carbon levels also need to be measured. While this has not yet been done, and is beyond the scope of the current study, it is reasonable to assume that when added to the landscape benefits shown above, the environmental benefits of the REPS programme comfortably exceed the costs associated with it.

In summary, it can be established from the studies available that there are significant environmental benefits. These benefits in economic terms were calculated to be €153.2m per annum for landscape benefits alone, at a time when the total cost of implementing REPS (National co-funding and EU contribution) was €195.4m. No attempt has been made to quantify in money values the contribution of enhanced biodiversity and other environmental benefits. If these were included, it is very likely that the environmental benefits of REPS, on their own, would outweigh the total cost of implementing the scheme.

In last week’s article on the costs of REPS, it was shown that because of EU co-funding, REPS had no net cost to the Exchequer.

The State can, therefore, be said to be achieving enhanced environmental objectives at little, if any, net cost through REPS. Without a well-funded environmental scheme to succeed REPS4, benefits will be lost.

*T O’Leary , A McCormack, G Hutchinson, D Cambell, R Scarpa and B Riordan (2004), ‘Putting a Value on the Farm Landscape’ Paper presented at National REPS Conference.