Farmers are outraged at the reduction in numbers who are eligible for the Agri-Environment Options Scheme and also the reduction in the maximum payment to farmers which has been capped at €4,000 per year, a reduction of €1,000.
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney said the AEOS, which replaced the REPS environmental programme, will operate again this year despite budgetary restraints. However, there is a limit of €25 million per annum on the scheme, half of what was allocated last year.
Mayo IFA chairman Martin Gavin, who met with the Minister in Dublin on Wednesday night, said Minister Coveney told the delegation he struggled to put the €25 million in place. “It’s very disappointing for farmers,” Mr Gavin told the Mayo Advertiser and he now fears that this will lead to land abandonment in marginal areas.
Another serious issue that is emerging from all of this, according to Mr Gavin, is a possible reduction in the €150 payment per hectare for commonage and Natura sites to €75 under AEOS.
IFA president John Bryan said that rowing back on a Budget decision is unacceptable as up to 2,000 farmers will not now be able to join the scheme and those who do qualify will get a lower payment than what was promised. “The decision will be devastating for low income farmers who depend greatly on direct supports such as AEOS,” he added.
“Up to 10,000 farmers will have completed their REPS 3 plan before the mid-May next application date. The agri-environmental payment is an integral part of the farming system, supporting farm incomes and adding greatly to the environment and the rural economy.”
IFA rural development chairman Tom Turley said that reducing the numbers in the scheme will mean that many farmers who will apply will be turned down. Also reducing the maximum payment by €1,000 is a major blow to low income farmers and the problem is significantly acute in SAC areas where farming activities are restricted.
Applications are open until May 16.