Farm Ireland

Sunday 17 December 2017

AEOS future in doubt amid €36m budget cut

Up to 10,000 farmers finishing in REPS 3 may have no scheme to enter next year

Darragh McCullough & Caitriona Murphy

Fears are mounting that up to 10,000 farmers leaving REPS 3 next year could be locked out of any environmental scheme after cuts to Department of Agriculture funding were revealed.

The National Recovery Plan 2011-2014, unveiled by the Government this week, included a massive €35.7m cut in the Department of Agriculture's budget for REPS and the Agri Environmental Options Scheme (AEOS) next year.

The remaining €294m in the Department's budget will only be enough to cover the 9,000 farmers who signed up to the new AEOS this year and the 30,000 farmers in REPS 4.

That leaves around 10,000 farmers who are scheduled to leave REPS 3 next year, and who expected to move into AEOS immediately, without any environmental scheme to take part in.

Environmental schemes have become a critical part of farm income on many farms and the prospect of not having a new scheme to apply for is a daunting one for farmers.

When asked about the issue, the Department said that no decisions had been taken about either "the levels of participation in various schemes, including AEOS, or the payment rates that will apply".

However, it did hint strongly that any money available would be channelled to active farmers, saying: "The plan confirms that there will be a focus on streamlining programmes.

"Options to be considered include prioritisation of financial support in schemes to active farmers."

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The IFA is hopeful that provisions can be made for AEOS to stay open to new entrants.

The IFA estimates that it would only cost €10m to do so and that this could be provided through a combination of supplementary estimates and savings achieved elsewhere in the Department's spend.

However, rural development chairman Tom Turley is appealing to the 8,000 farmers that have still not submitted their 1C REPS 3 form to do so as soon as possible.

"This will help minimise the pressure on the REPS and AEOS budget for next year and optimise the chances of keeping the AEOS scheme open," he said.

Meanwhile, there are also concerns over how progress on deciding the EU's budget will impact on Irish finances. Negotiations on the EU's budget for next year between the commission, council and parliament have been extremely difficult according to Ireland East MEP, Mairead McGuinness.

"Farmers should be assured that money due to them will be paid," said Ms McGuinness.

"The immediate problem is for member-state budgets where advance payments have been made to farmers with anticipation of a refund early in 2011. This will not now happen, unless agreement can be reached between the parliament and council on the budget."

Irish Independent