Farm Ireland

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Planners tout for AEOS role

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Farmers risk losing money in the new Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS) unless they employ agricultural advisers to help with applications, the Agricultural Consultants Association (ACA) has warned.

A weighted matrix system will be applied by the Department of Agriculture to assess applications from non-NATURA and non-commonage areas.

If the AEOS scheme is over-subscribed, this matrix will be used to determine which farmers are accepted into the new scheme.

ACA president Pat Minnock said planner input would be required to help farmers choose relevant measures.

"Even though the minister says farmers won't need planners, farmers will need help," insisted Mr Minnock.

"They will need advice on the most suitable locations, cost-effective and efficient measures to choose," he said.

There are also fears that farmers may not have sufficient technical expertise to confidently submit correct application forms.

"For example, the species-rich grassland measure requires farmers to identify five positive and five negative indicators for each land parcel," explained Mr Minnock.

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"And for traditional hay meadows, farmers haveto identify three grassland species.

Mr Minnock said most farmers would not chance making a mistake in their application.

"The farmers' experience of Department inspections means that they will be afraid of their lives to stick something on the form that is wrong," he said.

"There is no change of mind allowed once the application is submitted," he warned. "If the application is not approved, the farmer is out of the scheme."

Teagasc environment specialist Tim Hyde agreed that farmers would want to maximise their chances of getting into the scheme.

"Although we would be advising farmers to go with the lowest cost option and do the application themselves, many of them will want to get their adviser to check the application," he said.

Meanwhile, IFA rural development chairman Tom Turley has called for applications to be operated from June 1, with a seven-month payment being made later in the year.

He said farmers whose REPS 3 contracts finish after May 17 must be allowed into the scheme.

Mr Turley welcomed the increase in SAC and commonage payments from €75/ha to €150/ha but said it was unacceptable that those farmers still had to get an environmental report because it would dilute the payment in areas where severe farming restrictions apply.

Minister Brendan Smith is being urged to make a strong case to the EU Commission for further changes to the AEOS.

"Farmers with designated land must have the opportunity to avail of the National Parks and Wildlife Farm Plan Scheme where the AEOS does not provide adequate compensation for farming restrictions imposed," insisted Mr Turley.

Irish Independent