UP to 70,000 farmers are expected to take part in the €3bn new Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) launched by Agriculture Minister Mary Coughlan yesterday.
The scheme provides funding averaging €7,220 a year for farmers who sign up to farming methods designed to protect the countryside, increase biodiversity and improve water quality.
It will run until 2013, with farmers required to enhance the environment though a range of actions, including reduced use of fertilisers and pesticides contributing to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
Maintaining hedgerows and creating new ones, growing crops to provide food for wild birds and preserving traditional breeds of animals and ancient Irish orchards are also key aspects of the new REPS 4 scheme.
The scheme, which is funded by the EU and the Irish Government, could be seen as a return to more old-fashioned methods of farming that would help maintain Ireland's rural environment, Ms Coughlan said.
"Modern farmers are conscious of their responsibility for this heritage and they want to maintain it and pass it on to future generations. REPS helps them do this."
Almost 60,000 farmers had taken part in the previous REPS scheme and the aim was to increase this to 70,000 with payment rates 17pc higher than before.
The average farmer taking part in the scheme would get €7,220 a year while a farmer with 55 hectares would get over €10,000.
The Irish Farmers' Association said the new scheme was overdue but urged farmers to take part as a recent study by Teagasc showed incomes were 13pc higher on REPS farms than on those which did not take part.
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