Farm Ireland

Monday 20 November 2017

Payments slashed in new REPS plan

Huge cuts among raft of changes in 'disappointing' proposals

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Farmers in Natura 2000 and commonage areas face payment cuts of up to 70pc under the proposed new agri-environment scheme from the Department of Agriculture.

Payment rates will be reduced from €242/ha to just €75/ha for farmers in a special area of conservation (SAC), special protected area (SPA) and national heritage area (NHA) as well as non-designated commonage areas in the new Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS).

The massive reduction is among several changes revealed when the Department issued its proposals for the new AEOS last Thursday.

With a proposed start date of May 17, the scheme will be open to farmers who are not in REPS on that date.

Farmers who are in REPS then, or who take part in the National Parks and Wildlife Service or Burren LIFE schemes, will not be eligible.

The proposed scheme is designed to address three main issues: halting biodiversity change; maintaining water quality; and combating climate change.

Within the scheme, there are two categories of applicant. Category 1 farmers are those who farm in Natura 2000 and commonage areas. These farmers have priority entry to the scheme and must submit a sustainable management plan prepared by an agriculturalist.

They can also choose other actions from a menu of options.

Also Read

Category 2 includes all other eligible farmers. These applicants must pick one of the three main issues for their farm, and then choose one mandatory action and one complementary action, or two mandatory actions from a menu of options.

The farmer can then pick any number of actions, either mandatory, complementary or additional, up to a payment ceiling of €5,000/year.

But if the AEOS scheme is over-subscribed, Category 2 applications will be judged on criteria such as the environmental value of their choices.

Despite vehement opposition from farmers, Department officials are adamant that the AEOS scheme will remain capped at 10,000 applicants and a maximum payment of €5,000/year. The farm organisations have described the proposed scheme as having serious shortcomings.

IFA president John Bryan insisted farmers must be in a position to get an average payment of €5,000 with reduced compliance costs, with higher payments to hill and SAC areas.

ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin said that, as predicted, the new agri-environment scheme came as a big disappointment to farmers.

"The new scheme involves too much cost for too little return," he insisted.

ICMSA deputy president John Comer described the AEOS scheme as hopeless in every respect, adding that it could not be considered a successor to REPS 3.

Minister for Agriculture Brendan Smith and farm organisations are expected to meet in the coming days.

Irish Independent

Top Stories