Farm Ireland

Thursday 21 September 2017

€70m of AEOS cash will be left unspent

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Close to €70m of the Agri Environment Options Scheme (AEOS) budget will remain unspent over the next five years unless the programme is reopened, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Breeders Association (ICSA) has warned.

The €14m under-spend this year alone could fund a further 3,500 entrants into the scheme at an average payment of €4,000 apiece.

It has emerged that final application numbers are expected to be in the region of 9,050 farmers.

Department of Agriculture officials estimate that the average payment per farmer will be close to €4,000. The maximum payment is €5,000.

The shortfall in application numbers, and lower than anticipated payments, will put the total annual outlay for the AEOS at €36m or €180m over the five-year period of the scheme.

Given that the Department of Finance has approved €250m in funding for the AEOS over five years, speculation is now mounting about how the excess €70m could be spent.

At a meeting of the Rural Development Monitoring Committee on Thursday, the ICSA called for the scheme to be re-opened next year.

It is understood the farm organisation suggested that successful applicants next year could join the scheme for a four-year term.

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Some 10,000 farmers are due to exit the REPS 3 scheme this year and have no other environmental scheme to join.

The high number of applications for the AEOS has led to calls for the scheme to be expanded beyond its €250m limit.

"Considering the short time frame involved in taking applications this year, application numbers were very close to the 10,000 target," said an ICSA spokesman.

"This shows that farmers are interested in the scheme and the Minister for Agriculture should work hard to persuade the Department of Finance that demand is there for a real scheme to support farm incomes on the back of a 40pc income drop," he said.

"More than 9,000 applications is an incredible level of take-up, especially considering the time frame for applications," he maintained.

It is understood that obvious errors on AEOS application forms can be amended but Department officials will reject ineligible applications or farms that do not meet the criteria.

However, the majority of applications are believed to be eligible.

Meanwhile, spending under the Farm Improvement Scheme (FIS) is also falling short of expectations.

As of last month, just €49m of the €85m allocated for the FIS had been spent.

Speculation is mounting that several hundred farmers who were cut out of the FIS scheme in 2008 could benefit as a result of the €36m under-spend should the Department move to reopen the scheme.

Irish Independent