The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney has announced the ‘maximum flexibility’ on educational requirements for Pillar 1.

He said that the introduction of the category of ‘young farmer’ is one of the most innovative features of the new regime of Direct Payments which will take effect in 2015.

“The purpose of this category is to encourage and facilitate the entrance of young, well educated persons into our farming sector, and has the potential, to play a major role in the generational renewal of agriculture in Ireland in the coming years.”

The Minister said he is aware that many who have an interest in pursuing such an agricultural course may have difficulty in achieving the completed educational qualifications in time to qualify the 2015 Young Farmer and National Reserve schemes.

“I am anxious that no such young farmer or new entrant should be excluded from the benefits of these schemes for this reason. I am therefore announcing increased flexibility regarding the timelines for achieving the required educational qualifications.”

Persons who meet the definition of ‘young farmer’ will receive significant benefits in terms of preferential access to the National Reserve and also in terms of qualifying for an additional payment under the new Young Farmers Scheme.

Similarly, the category of ‘new entrant’ will provide preferential access to the National Reserve for farmers who are establishing their holding for the first time or have established their holding in the previous two years but who cannot avail of the ‘young farmer’ category due to their age.

To ensure that the benefits of the ‘young farmer’ and ‘new entrant’ categories are targeted at those who have a genuine interest in farming as a career, successful applicants will require to have completed a recognised course of education in agriculture giving rise to an award at FETAC level 6 or its equivalent.

This requirement, when combined with an existing high demand for places on agricultural courses, has given rise to a significant demand and creates a challenge for the agricultural educational sector.

While the requirement for a FETAC Level 6 agricultural qualification or its equivalent remains unchanged, it has been decided that any person who meets the other eligibility criteria for the relevant schemes and who commences a qualified agricultural course anytime up to and including September 2016 will be accepted as a ‘young farmer’ or ‘new entrant’ in 2015.

This increased flexibility will ensure that the benefits of the ‘young farmer’ and ‘new entrant’ categories will be widely available even to those who are unable to complete their agricultural course by 2015.

This flexibility does however come with a warning! Any person who benefits from the National Reserve or the Young Farmers Scheme in this way, but who fails to complete the required course, will have to repay any benefits received.