Proposed new rules from the European Commission on the definition of a disadvantaged area could result in a major upheaval in the areas of Ireland currently receiving disadvantaged area payments.
Speaking in the Dáil last week, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said his department had conducted extensive analysis of the Commission's proposal.
It showed no major shift in the total area designated in Ireland, which is almost 75pc of Ireland's eligible land area.
However, Mr Coveney added that the new criteria would cause "considerable change", with areas not previously designated now included and other designated areas excluded.
Under the new rules, less favoured areas or disadvantaged areas would become known as 'areas facing natural or specific constraints' or ANCs.
ANCs would be decided by eight soil and climatic criteria, including low temperature, dryness, excess soil moisture, limited soil drainage, unfavourable texture and stoniness, shallow rooting depth, poor chemical properties and slope.
Minister Coveney described the Commission's proposal to re-define disadvantaged areas as a "very divisive" and "difficult" political issue as many countries such as Ireland have many farms in disadvantaged areas or less favoured areas.
"They want to retain the classification system because payments can be drawn down for those farms," he told the Dáil.
"We need to find a compromise that is both practical and workable and which will have the maximum number of farmers in Ireland receiving payments for having to farm in disadvantaged areas."
Meanwhile, figures released by the Department show 5,415 of the 9,300 applications received for derogation from the Disadvantaged Area Scheme stocking rate rules have been accepted.
A further 1,661 derogation applications have been rejected, while more information has been sought from 319 farmers.
Farmers with mountain grazing land and more severely disadvantaged land had the highest rates of success in securing a stocking rate derogation. Almost 3,500 mountain grazing farmers and more than 1,000 farmers in more severely disadvantaged areas were granted the derogation.