Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said that farmers will start to be admitted into the new EU supported Agri-Environment scheme GLAS next year.

The scheme provides financial support to farmers to tackle climate change, and improve water quality and bio-diversity.

Almost €1.5 billion is to be distributed through the scheme over the next seven years as part of the Rural Development Plan.

It is estimated that a total of 50,000 farmers will qualify for payments under the scheme with the average payment expected to be in the region of €5,000.

In addition to these basic payments farmers who take on particularly challenging environmental actions may qualify for a top-up payment of up to €2,000.

The GLAS Agri-Environment Scheme is a major part of the €4 billion Rural Development Programme for the period 2014-2020, which is co-funded by the EU and the Government.

Minister Coveney today outlined more details of how that €4 billion will be allocated.

In addition to the €1.45 billion earmarked for the GLAS scheme, another €1.4 billion is earmarked for Areas of Natural Conservation, previously referred to as the Disadvantaged Area Scheme.

Although the general criteria for this Areas of Natural Conservation scheme are due to be reassessed, the minister said there will be no significant changes to the operational criteria before 2018.

In the meantime, however, he is proposing to add a top-up payment for island farmers.

The details outlined today also show a significant increase of €100m in grants for on-farm investments, including dairy equipment, beef and sheep handling equipment, pigs and poultry, slurry on tillage farms, and low emissions spreading equipment.

There will also be additional assistance for young farmers who will receive a preferential grant of 60% towards the purchase of such equipment.

There is increased assistance for organic farmers, for collaborative approaches to farming, and for locally led agri-environment schemes including the Burren Farming for Conservation Scheme, and new projects in the Freshwater Pearl Mussel Catchment areas.

Minister Coveney also said he would be introducing innovative new measures to support producers of honey and apples, as well as new measures to encourage the restoration of traditional farm buildings.