Some 18,000 farmers who face having to pay back €40m in BEAM payments could yet get a reprieve, the Irish Farmers Journal has learned.

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue has written to the European Commission seeking changes to the scheme dates.

As it stands, farmers have until 30 June to reduce stock numbers, but it is understood that Minister McConalogue is seeking a new 12-month reference period of 1 January to 31 December 2021.

This would reduce the pressure on farmers to cut their farm’s nitrogen output by 5% before 30 June.

Farmers who are meeting the scheme requirements will be unaffected.

Minister McConalogue said that he had been listening to farmers: “I have written to the Commission exploring whether any fair and proportionate options are available to help affected farmers in a fair way.”

Commenting on the Minister's intervention, IFA president Tim Cullinan said his key objective must be to avoid any clawback.

“Extending the time by six months is not enough. Farmers will also need flexibilities with scheme requirements and additional information to deal with the issue,” Cullinan said.