IFA National Farm Forestry Chairman Vincent Nally said the Department of Agriculture must honour afforestation contracts if planting rates are to recover.
“The re-digitisation of forest area as part of control checks continue to result in farmers payments being reduced despite the IFORIS system, the online computerised mapping and payment system, being in operation for over 12 years,” he said.
Mr Nally said that all afforestation applications are made online by the registered forester on behalf of farmers, but mapping issues result in farmers’ forest area being reduced at Form 3 stage or later in the term of premium payments.
“This is undermining confidence in afforestation programme and has caused farmers to distrust the scheme as in some instances their premium payment has been reduced on more than one occasion,” said Mr. Nally.
He said that there are other issues with the scheme that are negatively affecting the perception of forestry and are directly related to the significant decline in farmer planting under the current programme.
“There are farmers that have had their forest area re-categorised or totally excluded from premium payment, even though their application was approved by the Department at establishment stage. This has resulted in their premium payment being reduced with significant financial implications for them.”
The level of farmers planting has decreased from 6,009 hectares in 2013 to 3,242 hectares in 2017, a 50% decline in farmer planting in four years.
Vincent Nally said that forestry is a permanent land use change and it only works if the applicant can trust the scheme.
He said the inconsistency in the system is hugely damaging to the afforestation programme. It is unacceptable to IFA that an afforestation application that is approved and signed off by one Inspector can then be reversed or amended at a later stage by another Inspector.