€70m of AEOS cash will be left unspent
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.