Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Wednesday 13 December 2017

AEOS offer new lifeline

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Farmers facing severe income cuts because of the lack of a national agri-environment scheme have been thrown a lifeline with the news that a new AEOS scheme could open for applications within three months.

Department of Agriculture secretary general Tom Moran has indicated that AEOS 3 could be open for applications by September.

Some 10,000 farmers have finished REPS in the past 12 months and currently have no environmental scheme to enter. REPS accounted for almost 50pc of family farm income for many of those farmers. Meanwhile, a further 30,000 farmers are due to finish REPS 4 plans in the next two and a half years.

Speaking to the Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Natural Resources and Agriculture on Thursday, Mr Moran said Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney was considering the possibility of re-opening AEOS "either on an amended basis from the existing scheme and/or on a limited scale".

His comments follow on from a statement by Minister Coveney in the Dail that a limited opening of the scheme was being considered.

The new scheme would be targeted at farmers working in SAC, Natura or commonage areas, Minister Coveney said.

"He is looking, in particular, at the possibility of re-opening for applications later in the year with a possible closing date for applications at the end of September and a commencement date for new participants of January 2013," added Mr Moran.

The secretary general warned that any decision on the new scheme would be subject to a detailed expenditure review by the Department. Farm organisations have reacted coolly to the news, insisting that AEOS 3 will be meaningless unless it includes farmers outside SAC and commonage farmers.

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ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin described the Department's agri-environment strategy as being "in disarray".

"While we welcome every effort to put in place an AEOS scheme for January 2013, the truth is that AEOS is no longer fit for purpose," he said.

"It is neither a credible replacement for REPS nor an innovative way of delivering substantial environmental benefit on a national scale."

However, Mr Gilmartin stressed that farmers who had to put up with the inconvenience and income loss associated with designation needed support and needed it fast.

IFA rural development chairman Flor McCarthy called for AEOS 3 to open even sooner than September and insisted the scheme should include non-SAC and commonage farmers.

income

"The AEOS scheme is a vital support scheme for farmers, particularly drystock farmers," he said.

"The Teagasc National Farm Survey has clearly indicated over the last number of years that farmers who are in REPS/AEOS have a higher income, as the payments make a significant contribution to overall farm income."

A spokesman for the Department of Agriculture declined to comment on whether AEOS 3 would include non-designated farmers or what the total budget might be.

Meanwhile, the majority of the 8,773 farmers in AEOS 1 have received their 2010 payments and almost 3,500 have been paid for 2011.

However, 636 farmers still have not been paid for 2010, mainly due to digitisation problems and incomplete capital investment claims by the farmers.

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