IFA Farm Forestry Chairman, Pat Collins has said that farmers are holding off on planting until Minister Andrew Doyle shows a commitment to introduce changes to the programme that will address farmers’ long-standing concerns, particularly in relation to the removal of restrictions on planting productive marginal land and paying farmers a premium on all land they are obliged to set aside for environmental enhancement.
He said the Minister has an opportunity as part of the mid-term review process to introduce changes to the programme that would have a positive impact on planting and could go a long way to reverse the downward trend.
The latest figures from the Forest Service show that planting is down 20% on this time last year. There is a budget and target to plant 7,140 hectares in 2017, however based on current figures the planting programme could be as low as 5,200 hectares. That is nearly 2,000 hectares or 25% below target.
“This level of planting would represent a 60 year low, at a time when the demands for wood based products are projected to increase significantly in the coming decades”, said Mr. Collins. “Despite the accelerating downward trend the Minister still refuses to remove restrictions on planting productive marginal land and increase the land available to the programme”.
The Afforestation Programme plays an important role in Ireland’s climate change mitigation plan, as a carbon sink, and as a renewable resource for fuel and wood products. To make a meaningful contribution to climate mitigation in the long term and to achieve sustainable timber supply, an annual afforestation programme of in excess of 10,000 hectares is required.
“I know of plenty of farmers who want to plant but are excluded from the programme”, said Mr. Collins, “I am very disappointed that the mid-term review draft proposals are not addressing the substantive issues of concern to farmers. The Minister is not listening and has shown an unwillingness to introduce the changes required to revitalise the sector”.
He urged the Minister to act now to introduce changes as part of the mid-term review process to increase the level of farmer planting. He said that the Minister must take advantage of the review process to make the necessary changes and stop the decline of the afforestation programme to unsustainable levels.