No details on 'new REPS' for another month
Final details of the new agri-environment package to replace REPS will not be known until the end of February at the earliest.
A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture said that although the new plan had been approved by the EU Rural Development Management Committee, final clearance by the Commission will not be forthcoming for another month.
"Until we get final approval from the Commission, no details of the new plan will be available," the Department spokesperson said.
However, the IFA and ICSA have urged the Department to enter discussions with farmer representatives to finalise details of the package.
As farmers interested in joining the scheme must confirm this on their Single Farm Payment (SFP) applications, farmer groups argue that information on the package will have to be available well ahead of the May 15 deadline date for SFP applications.
"How can you apply for something when you don't know anything about it?" a leading IFA official asked.
Tom Turley of the IFA called on Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith to set discussions in motion on the details of the new scheme so that a workable and significant agri-environmental programme can be put in place.
Mr Turley said: "10,000 farmers will have exited REPS 3 by May 15 next and these farmers must have a meaningful scheme available to them."
However, Mr Turley said the maximum payment level of €5,000 laid down by Minister Smith for the new scheme was totally inadequate and must be increased.
This view was echoed by the ICSA president, Gabriel Gilmartin.
"If this is going to be in anyway a meaningful and a successful substitute for the REPS scheme, it will have to be based on a low-cost model," Mr Gilmartin said.
"The maximum payment of €5,000 is too low and is a very big drop from what farmers received through REPS. Any additional costs, such as planner fees, will have to be curtailed. All other compliance costs will have to be minimised."
But with the Department now set on introducing a 'tick box' scheme, where farmers simply choose the measures they intend to include in their plan, reservations have been raised about the lack of technical back-up which will be available to applicants.
Fears have been expressed that the high standards that applied to REPS will be undermined by the new package due to an absence of technical support in the framing of plans.
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