GLAS and AEOS provide valuable support to farmers to deliver environmental benefits and public goods which will enhance Ireland's sustainability credentials into the future. They provide support to Irish farmers aimed at enhancing biodiversity, water quality and the mitigation of the future impacts of climate change, while allowing Irish farmers to improve their agricultural practices.
The GLAS scheme is the latest agri-environment scheme available to farmers. It forms part of Ireland’s rural development plan 2014-2020. To date, in excess of 50,000 farmers have had applications approved into the scheme under three different tranches over a 14-month period. The approval of these farmers into the scheme has been achieved a year ahead of the original target set when the scheme was launched.
The first full year of payments to participants in the first two tranches of the scheme is 2016. To date, over 91% of these participants have received their 2016 GLAS advance payment, which represents 85% of the total 2016 payment due. There are some 3,000 applicants who have not yet received this payment as their applications have not passed all the regulatory cross-checks of Department databases and validation checks required to support these EU co-funded payments.
As the Deputy is aware, this is a complex scheme with over 30 different actions available which allows farmers a choice of environmental actions to suit their farms. However, with this flexibility of choice for farmers comes increased complexity in administrating the scheme. My Department has committed significant resources in developing systems, including IT systems, to support this level of complexity, with the system required to support multiple changes in land parcel details and multiple combinations of actions across holdings and parcels.
Outstanding 2016 payments under GLAS 1 and 2 have been delayed due to a variety of issues, including the declaration of incompatible parcel usage on the basic payment scheme, BPS, application for a selected GLAS action, changes in parcel boundaries in respect of parcels selected for GLAS actions, an applicant no longer claiming a parcel on his or her 2016 BPS and incomplete documentation, such as an incorrect or incomplete low-emission slurry declaration form or interim commonage management plan.
All cases which have passed all the required checks have been paid and cases continue to be paid as they are cleared. In addition, I want reassure the Deputy that my Department is continuing to review outstanding applications on a case-by-case basis, including contacting farmers directly by telephone, e-mail or letter with a view to resolving all issues with outstanding cases as soon as possible.
In respect of the AEOS scheme, there were 8,640 valid AEOS applications due a payment for the 2016 scheme year. Of these, 7,436 have been paid, leaving 1,204 outstanding. Under the EU regulations governing the scheme and other area-based payment schemes, a comprehensive administrative check, including cross-checks with the land parcel identification system, must take place. As 2016 is the final scheme year of payment for the AEOS 2 scheme, rechecks on payments made for all scheme years must be completed before final payments can be processed. This work is ongoing and payments for valid checked files are and will continue to be released on a weekly basis.
A number of payments under both schemes continue to be held up due to incomplete documentation and all participants are reminded to respond to any correspondence and submit any outstanding documentation as soon as possible to facilitate payment. Payments under both schemes will continue on an ongoing basis as issues are resolved and cases are cleared for payment.