Farm Ireland

Sunday 21 January 2018

AEOS payments now delayed until August

Outrage as farmers have to wait even longer for last year's cash

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS) payments for last year will not be processed until August at the earliest, the Department of Agriculture has confirmed.

In answer to a Dáil question last week, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney admitted that the Department would be unable to pay more than 9,000 farmers who signed up last year to the agri-environment scheme for another three months.

The news has sparked a furious reaction from the ICSA, with association president Gabriel Gilmartin claiming that the Department's approach to farmer payments was "casual" and "lackadaisical".

While the Department has not given a reason for the delay, Mr Coveney pointed out that under the EU regulations governing AEOS and other area-based payment schemes, a comprehensive administrative check, including cross-checks with the land parcel identification system, must be completed before any payment can be issued.

"I expect that payments to participants in the scheme in respect of the first year will commence in August and that payments in respect of year two will commence in October," Mr Coveney said.

Close to €8m is owed to around 9,200 farmers for last year. The total payment for this year is in the region of €35m.

Mr Gilmartin added that the failure to clear payments had damaged the credibility of the scheme and left the national agri-environment strategy in disarray.

"It is quite remarkable that in the space of a couple of years, we have gone from a hugely successful REPS scheme, which had attracted over 60,000 farmers into environmental protection, to a scenario where farmers are being messed around," Mr Gilmartin said.

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"Farmers who entered AEOS in good faith have been left high and dry without a payment. No farmer can afford to be undertaking environmental programmes, which are costly in terms of actual inputs as well as income foregone by reduced stocking rates, when there is a casual approach to the delivery of payments," he added.

Mr Gilmartin accused the Government of actively discouraging farmers from participating in agri-environment schemes.

He said the latest news of delayed payments simply reinforced the view that AEOS participation brought more headaches than it was worth.

"The really frustrating thing is that environmental measures are considered to be of ever-increasing importance at EU level yet our Government seems to see them as a frontline target for cutbacks," Mr Gilmartin said.

"The question that must now be answered is whether the Government wants an environmental programme at all?

"Certainly, the lackadaisical effort to pay last year's applicants suggests that the objective is to minimise rather than maximise participation."

Meanwhile, farmers have rejected the watered down AEOS for this year, agricultural advisers have indicated. Teagasc has confirmed that it processed just 1,000 AEOS applications this year, compared to around 2,500 for last year's scheme, while the Agricultural Consultants' Association reported a 50-66pc drop in applications through some of its members.

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