Farm Ireland

Friday 20 April 2018

Farm organisations livid at cuts outlined in new AEOS proposals

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Drastically reduced payment rates in the proposed new Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS) have provoked an angry reaction from farm organisations.

The scheme has a budget of €50m annually. This comprises €119m from modulation, €15m from the European Economic Recovery Fund and the remainindercoming from the national exchequer. It will deliver a maximum payment of €5,000 annually for 10,000 farmers.

Hill and commonage farmers have been badly hit, with payment reductions in the order of 70pc, compared to the REPS schemes that currently exist.

However, payments to the majority of farmers are likely to be significantly reduced under the scheme.

IFA president John Bryan insisted that farmers must be in a position to get an average payment of €5,000 with reduced compliance costs, instead of a maximum of €5,000.

Rural development chairman Tom Turley maintained that farmers would be very angry that their payment levels would be reduced under the new scheme.

"Hill and SAC [special area of conservation] farmers who have to comply with ongoing, huge environmental restrictions placed on their lands must get higher payments," he insisted.

His sentiments were echoed by ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin, who said the scheme involved too much cost for too little return.

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"Many farmers will see their REPS payment reduced by two-thirds to three-quarters," he maintained.

"As well as that, there is very little chance that the entire €50m can be drawn down efficiently.

"While this scheme provides for a maximum payment of €5,000, many farmers will not be able to qualify for the full amount.

"The actual payments for each measure are quite small in most cases and involve significant cost.

"Farmers in SACs and commonage areas will be very frustrated that they will have to employ a professional planner with environmental qualifications, despite the fact that we had been led to believe that planning costs would be eliminated from this scheme," he said.

ICMSA deputy president John Comer launched a scathing attack on the AEOS.

"It would certainly appear that more will be paid out in administration costs to those monitoring the scheme than will be earned by the farmers doing the actual work," he said.

"ICMSA calculates that it will be impossible for any farmer to get next or near the €5,000 maximum payment, unless he converts the whole farm to a bird sanctuary.

"The scheme is not a replacement for REPS 3, which is what it was intended and advertised to be, and it must be completely redesigned."

Meetings between the Department of Agriculture and farmer representatives are expected to continue in the coming days.

Irish Independent