The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney TD, today announced the re-opening of the Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS) for 2011 and confirmed that the scheme will be open for applications until 16th May next.
Minister Coveney said that “I am delighted to be in a position to announce a new AEOS scheme for 2011, despite the challenging budgetary constraints within my Department. In recent weeks, we have worked hard with the Department of Finance to get approval for the scheme announced today. This AEOS scheme will provide the majority of farmers coming out of REPS with an opportunity to enter a new agri-environment scheme. There will be an expenditure limit of €25 million per annum on this scheme and a maximum payment to farmers of €4,000 per annum. These limits are required in order to adhere to the expenditure ceilings set out in the National Recovery Plan 2011-2014.
While I would like to have been in a position to announce this scheme earlier, the reality of putting together this scheme was made all the more challenging due to the fact that the previous Government announced an AEOS scheme for 2011 without having put the necessary funding or budgetary arrangements in place. This was not only irresponsible, but misleading to farmers, particularly in the run-up to a General Election and should not have happened”.
This 2011 scheme is broadly similar to last year’s scheme with some minor changes which are designed to increase the benefits to both participating farmers and the environment. While the contract period will be for a 5 year period, the terms and conditions and payment rates for the new participants in the scheme will apply until the end of 2013. At that stage, participants will have the option of either terminating the contract without penalty or of opting to join whatever scheme may be introduced in the new EU Financial Perspective programming period.
The Minister said that under the Scheme, “farmers will continue to be paid to undertake identifiable and verifiable environmental measures under a scheme which builds on the success of both the Rural Environment Protection Scheme and the inaugural Agri-Environment Options Scheme. These schemes combined, currently have approximately 60,000 participating farmers”. Minister Coveney added “I believe that the scheme will be attractive to farmers while also delivering real, worthwhile environmental benefits. From that point of view, I am very pleased to announce the re-opening of the scheme again this year”.
As with last year, farmers with commonage land or designated Special Areas of Conservation or Special Protection Areas will have to follow a ‘Sustainable Management Plan’ prepared by a planner and will be given priority access to the scheme. Applicants other than those requiring a sustainable management plan are not required to engage a planner to complete their application form.
The Minister said that he was opening the scheme against a background of very serious economic and budgetary constraints. While difficult choices have to be made, he said that he felt that the commitment which had been given to open the scheme in 2011 should be recognised and honoured. The Minister said that he was allocating €25m p.a. to fund the cost of the scheme in a full year. This funding will be found within the overall expenditure ceilings for the Department in the National Recovery Plan and the Minister said that he would be critically examining every element of the Department’s expenditure to ensure that all available funding is optimised. Due to the diminishing resources available to the Department in the coming years, the Minister confirmed that significant savings would have to be achieved across a wide range of schemes and services in the 2012 Vote for his Department.
Minister Coveney concluded by encouraging all farmers intending to apply for participation in the Scheme to look carefully at all of the information available to ensure that their applications are completed properly.
Full details of the new Scheme, including the terms and conditions and application forms will be posted to his Department’s website at www.agriculture.gov.ie. They will also be available from the Department’s local offices and Teagasc offices nationwide.