Farm Ireland

Saturday 18 November 2017

Dept set to launch the AEOS

Declan O’Brien and Caitriona Murphy

THE controversial Agricultural Environment Options Scheme (AEOS) is set to be launched this week, despite serious opposition from farmer organisations.

Last ditch efforts by farmer representatives to appeal for changes in the AEOS scheme were rejected by Minister for Agriculture Brendan Smith on Thursday.

Talks between the Minister and farm groups centred on securing approval from Brussels to any changes in the scheme.

It is understood that Department of Agriculture officials warned that any changes made to the scheme now would result in delays of up to five months before the scheme could be opened.

The potential loss of income for farmers by such a lengthy delay meant that Minister Smith insisted on pressing ahead with the existing AEOS format.

The REPS replacement scheme, which will see payments to farmers in Natura 2000 and commonage areas cut by up to 70pc, will open for farmer applications from May 17.

However, it is understood that the farm organisations will continue their campaign to have the AEOS scheme overhauled and changes approved by Brussels after farmers sign up.

Described as flawed and unworkable by farmer representatives, the rural environment scheme will be capped at 10,000 applicants and individual payments will be limited to a maximum of €5,000 per year.

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IFA rural development chairman Tom Turley maintained the scheme would negatively affect small and medium-sized farms that were previously in REPS.

He insisted it would only benefit those who were anxious to let their farms run wild rather than carrying out agricultural activity.

The IFA had called for an all-farm payment to recognise the input of the farmer into the agri-environment measure, as well as more flexibility under the various options.

Meanwhile, hundreds of farmers publicly rejected the current AEOS scheme at regional IFA meetings in Donegal, Mayo and Kerry last week.

The farmers called for REPS 4 to be re-opened and warned that they would not apply for a complicated scheme without an adequate payment.

An estimated 10,000 farmers are due to exit the REPS 3 programme on May 17 this year, coinciding with the opening of the AEOS option.

Irish Independent