IFA Farm Forestry Chair, Vincent Nally said that the afforestation figures show that farmer planting under the current programme has declined by 67%.
“The figures make for stark reading and clearly show that farmers are disengaging from forestry, at time when we need more farmers to consider forest as a viable option as part of their overall farm enterprise. It is clear they have lost confidence in the programme,” said Mr. Nally.
Mr. Nally said that forestry is a permanent land use change – once a farmer plants his land, the land must remain forever under forestry.
“This is a major barrier to planting, particularly in light of the rapidly changing legislative framework, which is significantly increasing management costs and reducing productive forest area. Without greater flexibility in the replanting obligation, planting targets will not be achieved.”
He said that consecutive policy reviews have identified the replanting obligation as a major barrier to farmer planting but successive Governments have failed to address this barrier, preferring the stick to the carrot.
“If Ireland is serious about achieving the Climate Action Plan target of 8,000 hectares per annum then we need farmers to start planting again, and the new Government must address the replanting obligation,” said the IFA Farm Forestry Chair.
“But a lot more is needed if we are to restore farmer confidence,” said Mr. Nally.
He said a first step would be to reinstate the 8% cut to forest premiums and reintroduce the farmer premium differential, which has created huge local opposition to forestry and significantly increased the scale of investor planting, which now accounts for half the annual planting programme.
“In addition, the spiraling costs associated with managing small farm forests must be addressed. These farmers cannot afford to pay for costly Natura Impact Statements to undertake thinning operations, which are considered good management practice from both a timber production and ecological enhancement perspective.”
“Is it any wonder the forestry sector is grinding to a halt with the costs and requirements being heaped on farmers trying to manage a family forest, with an average size of less than 8 hectares?” concluded Mr. Nally.