Farm Ireland

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Dissatisfaction over AEOS is not a surprise

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Initial reports from farm consultants would suggest farmer reaction to the new Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS) is lukewarm.

The scheme was launched by the Department of Agriculture last Wednesday, around the same time as the NAMA announcement -- hardly a coincidence you'd have to suspect.

There was nothing in the package that hadn't already been flagged as the Department stuck to its guns on the maximum payment limit of €5,000 and a membership limit of 10,000.

Both of these measures were informed by the Government's desire to keep the scheme's spending tight.

However, if farm advisers are to be believed, then the Department is unlikely to have much trouble here.

The immediate reaction from commercial farmers appears to be that the scheme is not worth the hassle.

Too many actions need to be undertaken to get anywhere near a worthwhile payment from AEOS. Joining the scheme will also bring its own restrictions -- and possibly further inspections.

Given the success of REPS, it will be disappointing if farmers turn away from a widespread engagement with environmental issues.

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However, if farmers don't get a decent return for their efforts then it is hard to blame them for opting out.

The fact that farmers may not be in a position to justify paying a farm consultant is also likely to limit uptake.

The Department has flagged AEOS as a 'tick box' scheme, but the detail of the options available shows that many farmers will not have the technical knowledge to successfully make an application on their own.

The species-rich grassland measure, for example, requires farmers to identify five positive and five negative indicators for each land parcel. Meanwhile, for traditional hay meadows, farmers have to identify three grassland species.

This is the sort of detail that could catch people out, and farmers will be slow to apply on their own in case they get something wrong.

Completing applications by the May 17 closing date will also be a challenge.

Irish Independent