National Farm Forestry Chairman, Pat Collins has said that the decision taken by the Forest Service to increase the compulsory broadleaf area from 10% to 15% is the wrong approach.
Mr. Collins said the solution to Ireland meeting its broadleaf target is not to reduce the commerciality of the overall afforestation scheme but to encourage more farmers to plant broadleaf forest by increasing the premium rate, the duration of premiums or by introducing a payment for the additional environmental services provided by broadleaf forests.
“I am very disappointed by the decision taken by the Forest Service and fear it will have major repercussions for the afforestation programme,” Pat Collins said. He continued, “Farmers plant trees to produce timber, but now the productive area has been reduced further, for every 10 hectares they plant they are required to set aside 3 hectares to biodiversity enhancement and broadleaf landscaping”.
He recognised that Ireland needs to improve the level of broadleaf planting but said that there are a number of reasons for the decline, predominantly the removal of ash and larch as approved species as a result of disease but also that farmers are being offered a zero value for their broadleaf forests if they are selling or entering into partnerships.
“If it does not make commercial sense to plant broadleaves, it is unrealistic to expect farmers to carry the burden of Ireland not meeting its broadleaf targets. Farmers do not have the luxury of planting a crop that is uneconomic that will not provide a sustainable income for their families”.
“The planting programme in 2017 was the lowest in more than 60 years with approximately 5,500 hectares of new forest established, 25% below the 7,400 hectares target in the Forestry Programme,” Pat Collins said.