IFA Farm Forestry Chairman, Pat Collins has said Minister Andrew Doyle must take the opportunity of the mid-term review of the Forestry Programme to increase the grant and premium rates for GPC 1 so that payments are consistent with the other afforestation grant and premiums, which reflect the cost of establishment and the agricultural income foregone by planting.
Pat Collins said the Minister has stated that the current GPC 1 rate does not cover the cost of establishment and that the annual premiums are much lower compared with other grant and premium categories (GPCs).
“The review provides the only opportunity for the Minister to rectify the deficiency in the GPC 1 rate and bring the payments in line with other GPCs and, more importantly, the regulation, which states that supports must cover the cost of establishment and an annual premium per hectare to cover the costs of agricultural income foregone,” Pat Collins said.
The GPC 1 grant and premium rate was reduced by 18% and 20%, respectively under the Forestry Programme 2014 – 2020. This reduced the grant to €2600/ha and premium to €185/ha to discourage farmers from planting. All the other GPCs rates were increased, for example GPC 3, the most popular category among farmers, saw the grant rate increase by 12% to €3,650/ha while the premium rate increased by 16% to €510/ha.
Pat Collins said it is very frustrating to have worked with the Forest Service for over five years to lift the 20% rule, which restricts the planting of GPC 1 land to a maximum of 20% of the total application area, and replace with a Land Types for Afforestation document that uses ground vegetation to assess suitability, when in parallel the Forest Service reduced the GPC 1 rates to making it unviable for farmers to plant.
He continued, “The Minister has stated that he supports the lifting of the 20% rule; if he is genuine in his commitment to lift the 20% rule then he must increase the GPC 1 rate to make it feasible for farmers to plant. Otherwise it would appear that the Minister and Forest Service have been leading farmers on a merry chase over the last five years, and the hard work to develop a more appropriate land classification system and to lift the 20% rule will have been in vain”.
The IFA Forestry Chairman concluded by saying that if we are to achieve our afforestation targets, we must first make full use of all land that is assessed to be able to produce a commercial timber crop and secondly, that farmers are appropriately supported to establish and sustainably manage forests on all land that is eligible under the Afforestation Scheme.