It is understood that payments in respect of the AEOS 3 scheme will commence shortly. Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine Simon Coveney made the statement in response to a parliamentary question by Éamon Ó Cuív.

In his response the minister highlighted all area-based schemes under the Rural Development Programme, 2007-13, are subject to EU Regulations which require detailed administrative checks on all applications, including cross checks with the Land Parcel Identification System, to be completed before payments can issue.

He said these rigorous procedures, together with on-farm inspections, apply equally to AEOS 3, and are necessary to ensure that applications meet the scheme conditions and cross-compliance requirements.

The minister commented: “It takes time to put these systems in place for any new Scheme, as there is a great deal of initial checking of applications and resolution of queries arising which must be carried out before progressing to payment stage.”

He continued: “I am pleased to say that these checks are now well underway for AEOS 3 and I anticipate that payments for AEOS 3 in respect of 2013 will commence shortly. In line with the governing Regulations, the payments will be issued in two tranches, a 75 per cent payment and a 25 per cent payment.”

Minister Coveney was keen to point out that despite the challenging budgetary constraints facing the Department, in 2012 it allocated €20 million to fund the Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS) and on foot of this he announced the re-opening of the scheme as AEOS 3.

He said: “On the basis of previous experience in implementing agri-environmental schemes, I decided on a maximum payment of €4,000 per annum. This represents a welcome support to farmers operating to the highest environmental standards.

There are currently 5,963 farmers in AEOS 3, bringing the total number taking part in the Agri-Environment Options Scheme to around 20,000.

According to the Minister these farmers play a valuable role as custodians of our landscape. Their commitment to farming systems which deliver public goods builds on the success of previous agri-environmental schemes such as REPS.

He said: “They are contributing to a sustainable future for farming in Ireland, and will assist with addressing the challenging environmental issues we face, such as loss of biodiversity, water quality and climate change.”