Farm Ireland

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Farmers reject AEOS as applications down 50pc

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Farmers have rejected the watered-down Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS) for this year, agricultural advisers have indicated.

Teagasc has confirmed that it processed just 1,000 AEOS applications this year, compared to around 2,500 for last year's scheme, while the Agricultural Consultants' Association (ACA) has calculated a 50-66pc drop in applications through some of its members.

High capital costs, a €1,000 reduction in the maximum payment to €4,000 and a shorter contract term of three years instead of five years have been blamed for turning farmers off this year's AEOS.

The fact that up to 9,200 farmers are still awaiting payment for last year has also dealt a major blow to its credibility.

Limerick-based agricultural consultant David Walsh said he advised two-thirds of his clients not to enter AEOS this year because it simply did not suit their farming system.

"Using no fertiliser is not an option for many farmers," he said. He added that penalties under the scheme were totally disproportionate and excessive compared to the rewards for complying with certain measures.

He cited the example of a €1,000 payment for maintaining a three hectare hay meadow but a fine of €2,000 could be imposed if the hay was cut before a specified date.

Consultant Breain Carroll submitted 25 AEOS plans this year, down from 45. He claimed there was total apathy among farmers towards the revised scheme.

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Tralee-based consultant Eddie McQuinn maintained application numbers at around 160, on a par with last year. However, he also advised 60pc of interested clients not to apply because it would not be economically feasible for them.

AEOS applications through Teagasc offices in the Laois/ Kildare area were slashed by 80pc from 131 last year to just 26 this year, while applications through the two Tipperary offices fell from 140 last year to 90 applications this year.

Applications through the Cavan Teagasc office rose marginally from 13 last year to 15 this year, but Teagasc clients in Monaghan could find nothing to recommend the scheme and applications dropped from 20 to zero this year.

Uptake of the scheme in Mayo increased by 10pc this year, with 375 applicants dealt with through its Teagasc office. More than half of the farmers who applied this year were farmers on commonage land. In the Westport area, some 90 out of the 120 farmers who applied were commonage farmers.

Application numbers in Galway and Clare offices were similar to last year at around 400 farmers. The vast majority of applicants had Natura land.

IFA rural development chairman Tom Turley called on Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, to follow up on proposals to the EU Commission to increase the Natura payment from €75/ha to €150/ha. He said the use of fertiliser on species-rich grassland should also be allowed.

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