The decision by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to withdraw the Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS) has been met with anger across the sector this week.
Local IFA chief, Andrew McHugh said that the scheme’s cancellation would have a “detrimental” impact on the local economy and cause further hardship to the many farmers who are currently struggling to make ends meet.
“This is a disaster for Longford,” fumed Mr McHugh. “There are 260 Longford farmers leaving REPS this Spring and they get e1.6m. That money is coming into this County and spent locally and now it is gone out of Longford.”
Mr McHugh went on to question whether the Scheme would ever be re-instated, in the aftermath of its withdrawal, and highlighted the plight, now facing hundreds of farmers across the County, who will leave REPS over the next couple of years or so. “I would question if AEOS will ever come back,” the chairman of Longford IFA Executive added. “Minister Coveney says that agriculture is the way forward and then he cancels AEOS.
“Over the next few years there will be 680 farmers in Longford coming out of REPS; this is currently worth e4m annually to the County and if AEOS does not re-open there will simply be nowhere for them to go. The majority of farmers in AEOS were receiving the lower end of the income and this will mean that many of them will now be forced to access financial support from Farm Assist.”
Meanwhile, IFA President John Bryan said the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney “needed to be stronger” in his defence of low-income farmers. “Does the Minister not realise that the loss of REPS3 will represent a reduction of up to 50 per cent in net incomes for many of the farmers affected?” he asked. “No other sector is being let down so hard, and the Minister needs to deliver a meaningful AEOS scheme if the so-called social solidarity is to mean anything for farm families. Farmers are angry that Minister Coveney has failed to introduce an AEOS scheme in advance of the Single Farm Payment deadline of mid-May and delaying a scheme until later in the year will result in income losses for farmers as many have finished their REPS3 contract.”
Mr Bryan also pointed out that over the next two and a half years, 30,000 farmers would finish REPS4 plans, thus leading to significant savings. “A new scheme must include all of the measures in AEOS 1 and 2,” he explained. “Schemes such as REPS and AEOS underpin agricultural production as well as sustaining the environment in parts of the country where land is marginal and incomes are low.”