Despite the challenging budgetary constraints facing my Department, last year I allocated €20 million annually to fund the Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS) and on foot of this I announced the re-opening of the scheme. I decided on a maximum payment of €4,000 per annum for individual applicants which, on the basis of previous experience in implementing the scheme, indicated that approximately 6,000 new participants could be accepted into the scheme.
The Agri-environment Options Scheme (AEOS III) will build on the success of the Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) and both AEOS 1 and 2 in delivering an annual payment to farmers in return for farming to high environmental standards. The closing date for receipt of AEOS III applications was Friday December 7 and 9,689 applications have been received by my Department. The initial processing of the applications has been completed and acknowledgement letters have issued to all applicants. The detailed actions listed in each application are currently being recorded and the approval of applicants will be determined by the following priority selection criteria:
- applicants within a targeted area of the Boora region of Co. Offaly who select Wild Bird Cover Option B (Grey Partridge) will get first access,
- Applicants with eligible Natura land will get access next,
- Applicants with at least 0.5 hectares of Utilisable Agricultural Non-Natura Commonage land rank next,
- Farm Partnerships,
- Previous Participation in REPS,
- Farm Size (Favouring smaller holding) based on the utilisable agricultural area,
- Location of farms in Less Favoured Areas.
This process is well advanced and will be completed shortly. During this data entry process it has been noted that a number of applications either do not contain all the necessary information or the information submitted contains errors. Because the number of applications exceed the number that can be accepted into the scheme, it is absolutely essential that decisions are made on accurate data. For that reason, my Department has taken time to contact the applicants where queries arise to obtain the required information in order for the application to be appropriately assessed. My intention is to complete the selection process shortly and to notify all applicants of the outcome and of the commencement dates under the scheme in the case of successful applicants.
Based on the initial processing of applications approximately 4,500 applications have been submitted under the Commonage/Natura option. In the event that these applications fulfil all eligibility requirements of the scheme, these applicants will gain priority access to the scheme. I also now expect that a further 1,500 farmers without designated land will be admitted to the scheme. Applicants should note that they should not undertake any actions listed in their application until approved for participation in the scheme as actions undertaken or expense incurred prior to formal approval will not be eligible for reimbursement.