Competition needed on GLAS planning

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Welcoming the fact that the new GLAS scheme will be announced later this month, East Galway TD Paul Connaughton this week warned that strong competition is needed in terms of the price farmers will have to pay for GLAS plans.
‘The new farm environmental scheme GLAS, which will replace the REPS and AEOS schemes, will be officially announced by the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney TD, at the end of this month. This is good news for thousands of farmers who demonstrated their ability to protect the environment in the REPS scheme down the years and also provided a much-needed boost as a cash payment, particularly for west of Ireland farmers.
‘It has been proven by a plethora of research reports into the value of REPS schemes and it is now generally acknowledged, that no other scheme in the history of farming has delivered so many benefits, both to farmers themselves and to the protection of the environment. The new GLAS scheme has the potential to do the same, but there are certain aspects that need close scrutiny, both by the Minister for Agriculture and Teagasc, when the scheme is lodged.
‘Because the maximum payment of €5,000 is lower than was the case in the REPS scheme, it is vital that the cost of entry is kept at a minimum and given that Teagasc staff will not be directly involved in the preparation of the plans, a certain element of competition may be missing from the equation.
‘It is now agreed by Teagasc that the Farm Relief Service, which, let it be said, has provided an excellent service to farmers down the years, will carry out the planning work that Teagasc advisors did heretofore.
‘Private planners, who also did an excellent job for thousands of farmers, will of course be competing for this business, but many commentators believe that the involvement of Teagasc in the past kept fees to farmers generally lower than they otherwise might have been.
‘Irrespective of who is involved in the provision of the plans, it is vital that the scale of fees reflect the value of the GLAS scheme to farmers and this will only happen if there is real competition for the business.
Deputy Connaughton also said in a related matter that he has been making very strong representation to the Minister for Agriculture to ensure that Mountbellew Agricultural College/GMIT students will have their qualifications recognised so that they can get employment in the preparation of the GLAS plans. ‘This scheme has the potential to employ a great number of agricultural graduates and it is vital that this cohort of graduates be recognised.’
Concluding, Deputy Connaughton said that he hoped that small farmers would be given immediate access to the new scheme and that the scheme itself should be up and running as soon as possible.