More than 300 farmers are understood to have lost their places in the Agri-Environment Option Scheme (AEOS) due to differences on the interpretation of rules governing lands designated as Natura ground.
Farmers who had Natura ground taken on short-term leases are at the centre of the controversy, with the rules governing this type of ground disputed by the Department, planners and farm organisations.
In many cases the farmers were not in receipt of the higher payments available under the AEOS for Natura ground because the lands were not taken on the long-term leases required by the scheme.
As a consequence, the designated ground was not included in the farmers' applications. However, the Department has argued that since the farmers knew they had Natura land rented, they should have farmed it in line with the guidelines for Natura lands, even though they would not be paid for this.
It is believed that more than 300 farmers have lost their place in the scheme as a result.
The IFA has called for the farmers to be reinstated.
However, planners have told the Farming Independent that some clients have been informed that they will have to apply to start the scheme again this year.