Farm Ireland

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Battle lines drawn in bid to save AEOS

Concerns over scheme reach fever pitch in face of looming cuts

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

The Department of Agriculture is locked in a battle to save the Agri Environment Options Scheme (AEOS) from extinction.

Concerns about the scheme reached fever pitch last week when a senior Department official in charge of AEOS declined to speak on the prospects of its reopening at the Agricultural Consultants' Association (ACA) conference in Dublin.

A mid-March start date had been promised for the new scheme by the previous administration. But with an expected application deadline date looming at the start of May, fears are mounting that the scheme may become the first victim of the €60m in savings that have been targeted for the Department of Agriculture this year.

When asked if the delay in the announcement of the scheme meant it would be substantially changed, Minister Simon Coveney replied that "it may not be exactly what farmers had been expecting" but he said the Department was working hard on making it available to as many as possible.

"I've got a battle with the Department of Finance over the coming days," he admitted. "I am looking at significant cuts elsewhere to finance this scheme."

He declined to confirm how much he was seeking to fund the scheme.

IFA president John Bryan said that it was crucial for the rural economy that the AEOS scheme continued.

"AEOS was included in the budget and no other budgetary measure has been reversed," he said. "There will be significant savings arising from the winding up of REPS 3 over the next 12 months and by staggering AEOS payments into 2012 it should be possible to meet budgetary targets."

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The ICMSA said that curtailing agri-environmental schemes could jeopardise future funding since these were precisely the kinds of schemes likely to find favour at EU level post-2013.

"We'd strongly urge Minister Coveney to commit fully to a properly funded AEOS scheme," said ICMSA president Jackie Cahill.

In his first official public address since taking office two weeks ago, Minister Coveney assured the ACA delegates that if there was a problem with AEOS that he'd tell them.

But he insisted he was committed to delivering the €120m savings ear-marked for his Department as part of the Four Year Plan announced by the previous government.

"My Department is still committed to making these savings, which means we face tough choices. But I will offer new ways of looking at these savings," he added.

In a wide-ranging address, the minister warned the 150-strong attendance that the coming years would be "rocky at times" but agriculture was going to be the "good news story of the Irish economy".

He also implored farmers to avail of the online application process for single farm payment applications because he said it would allow huge cost savings for his Department.

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