Farm Ireland

Sunday 21 January 2018

Independent view: Ending AEOS would be very short-sighted

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

The admission by the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, that he is battling to save funding for the Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS) has come as a major shock.

The scheme was only launched last summer, is not even a year old, has still not had a cheque issued to a participant and now its very future is in doubt.

If you were to take a cold approach to farm payments you would have to admit that this scheme was vulnerable, given that it was strongly funded by the exchequer.

In addition, the payback for this sort of investment is hard to quantify in terms of real returns to the economy.

However, this is a very short-sighted and narrow view of what constitutes successful spending.

The recent EPA report on the improvement in groundwater quality and the quality of our rivers and lakes was headline news.

The performance of the farm sector was noted as a critical contributor to overall improvement.

This was attributed to regulations such as the Nitrates Directive, but it should equally be recognised that the massive farmer participation in REPS over the past 18 years has brought about a major improvement in the way they operate.

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Minister Coveney made the point last Friday that he aimed to save as much of the scheme's budget as possible.

While the total funding allocation for last year's scheme was €50m, in reality just €38m will be paid to farmers.

The IFA claims that there is ample room from within existing savings to fund the scheme for the 10,000 farmers leaving REPS 3 this year.

IFA president John Bryan said that farmers expected the new AEOS scheme to open this week.

ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin warned that supporting the AEOS will be the first test of the new Government's belief in the potential of the agricultural sector.

He said that at a time when the Government was pumping billions into the banks, it's not too much to find €50m to support agriculture, exports and the environment.

There is a view out there that farming is the one sector of the economy that is flying it at the moment and that is true to a degree.

However, drystock farmers are still struggling and these are the people who are the most likely participants in any new AEOS.

Shutting them out of the AEOS is short-sighted.

On a totally different note, I see that Toddy O'Brien is retiring as manager of Enniscorthy Mart. Reporting the news last week, the Dealer column in the Farmers Journal used three words in describing Toddy -- genial, calm and courteous. They were well chosen.

Indo Farming