AEOS scheme underwhelms most farmers
The absence of any real enthusiasm from the farm organisations for the introduction of a revamped AEOS scheme reflects a belief that the scheme is likely to be a mere shadow of former agri-environment packages.
ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin summed up the feelings of farmers when he claimed the Department of Agriculture agri-environment policy was in "disarray".
The expectation is that the scheme, which is due to open for applications in September and is due to kick off next January, will be restricted to farmers with lands in special areas of conservation, Natura ground and commonage.
The approach of the Department and Minister Coveney to this issue, as with all that involve expenditure, has been that the funds are simply not available to provide a more comprehensive scheme.
There is also a view that since Europe is moving towards making environmental requirements a feature of mainstream commercial farming through measures such as greening or stricter cross-compliance, the necessity for a stand-alone environmental scheme will effectively be negated.
Indeed, the standard Department line is that REPS became an income support scheme and that was never its intended purpose.
The Department must accept many farmers involved in these schemes were forced into environmentally friendly farming because of restrictions in stocking rates or other similar considerations.
This is particularly the case for hill farmers along the western seaboard. While the Department will argue that the new scheme will be targeted at these very people, the limited scope of the package is likely to see many farmers still excluded.