The Minister for Agriculture has told the AGM of the Irish Farmers Association that farmers will have to wait until September this year before receiving any payments from the new GLAS agri-environment scheme. 

The scheme is co-funded by the EU and provides for a maximum payment of €5,000 for 30,000 farmers.

It also offers a further payment of up to €2,000 for a limited number of farmers who take on particularly difficult environmental challenges.  

Farmers had been demanding the scheme would pay out far sooner, and there were groans from the audience when Minister Simon Coveney announcement that the first payment would be delayed until September. 

However, the Minister said that he cannot commit to spending money on the scheme until he gets approval from the European Commission for Ireland's rural Development programme.

He said that the Commission has to examine in detail 118 such proposals from regions all over Europe with only nine of these completed and approved so far.

Mr Coveney said that officials from his Department were "basically camped out in Brussels" at the moment trying to the get Irish scheme "over the line".

He told the AGM that the Commissioner for Agriculture has promised to issue a letter of comfort to Ireland in March once the GLAS scheme has been examined by his officials.

However, he added it would take several months longer before the full Irish Rural Development programme is finally approved. 

The letter of comfort, he said, would enable the Government to kick start the GLAS scheme.

Despite this, Mr Coveney said he is so anxious to get the scheme up and running that he would move ahead of the letter of comfort and open the scheme for applications from 30,000 farmers from next month instead of waiting until March. 

Regardless of this he said that it would still take until September this year before farmers receive any payments because so many applications will have to be processed.

He said that it is his intention that another 20,000 farmers would be accepted into the scheme in future applications rounds.

This will eventually bring the total number of Irish framers receiving agri-environment grants up to 50,000.

The payments, once they start, will continue for five years.