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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.

These farmers will also be hardest hit by the proposed changes to the Disadvantaged Area Scheme stocking rates, exacerbating their sense of grievance with the current regime in Agriculture House.

The dual planks of CAP since the early days of the former EEC have been the provision of food security while keeping farming communities intact and preventing rural depopulation. These remain the primary goals of the policy. Indeed, it was reiterated in Commissioner Ciolos's reform proposals.

But increasing levels of co-funding and national funding for environmental schemes such as AEOS and REPS mean that economic realities are restricting these enlightened initiatives to the wealthier EU member states.

Supports for farmers in peripheral regions could be further undermined should the definition of disadvantaged areas be limited to land quality.

Indo Farming