Farmer fury boils over in first meeting about AEOS
Sheepmen demand greater funding as scheme dubbed 'Mickey Mouse' package
There was a stormy reception for the new Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS) at the first of a series of information meetings on Friday night, with one farmer describing the scheme as a "Mickey Mouse" package.
Furious sheep farmers said the payments available under AEOS 2 were an "insult" and they demanded that extra funding be made available for a "proper" scheme.
"Go back to Mr Tom Moran [secretary general of the Department of Agriculture] and tell him to cop on and put a decent scheme in place," one farmer told Department officials at the meeting in Westport, Co Mayo.
The slashing of this year's AEOS budget to €25m and possible rule changes in the scheme in 2013 came in for particularly strong criticism.
While Department staff said the rule change stipulation was included at the insistence of EU officials, angry farmers pointed out that there was no suggestion of a change to the rules for those in AEOS 1, and it was also a five-year scheme.
Senior Department inspector Liam Fahey accepted that the scheme fell short of farmer expectations but he insisted that the €25m had been "hard got".
"We'd be delighted to have €50m and the scheme open to 10,000 farmers but these are different times. Money is tight and this scheme was in the balance even at €25m," Mr Fahey told the meeting.
Under the scheme, farmers could choose such options as species-rich grassland or traditional hay meadows to get the maximum payment of €4,000, he insisted.