IFA Farm Forestry Chairman, Pat Collins has called on Minister of State for Forestry, Andrew Doyle to honour commitments made by the Forest Service and remove restrictions on planting unenclosed land.
Pat Collins said that the Afforestation Programme is falling to unsustainable levels, and there is a real concern among farmers that, unless the Forest Service takes immediate action and opens up all lands suitable for growing trees, the skilled workforce will not be around to support the increasing levels of timber forecast to be harvested in the private sector in the coming years.
“If the current rate of planting continues, this year’s planting programme could be the lowest annual in nearly 30 years. The Forest Service must act and remove restrictions on unenclosed land that satisfies environmental requirements under the Afforestation Scheme,” Pat Collins insisted.
IFA was a member of a Land Availability for Afforestation Working Group, which was set up under the auspices of COFORD, the Research and Development Unit of the Forest Service. This group worked for over four years to develop a report to identify land and policy measures to increase the availability of land for afforestation. The report, which was published in 2016, identified 180,000 hectares of land that is currently not being farmed but is technically suitable for forestry development.
The Forestry Chairman said that the report recommended a need to develop a site classification system to assess site suitability for afforestation from a productivity perspective, to review the Environmental Requirements for Afforestation and to review grants and premium payments based on the site classification system.
“In tandem with the publication of the report, work was ongoing by the Forest Service to publish a Land Types for Afforestation and Environmental Requirements for Afforestation, both of which had been published by the end of 2016”, said Pat Collins.
The Land Types for Afforestation sets out potential eligibility of land for support under the Afforestation Scheme, based on the capability of that land to produce a sustainable crop of timber. While the Environmental Requirements for Afforestation ensure that the establishment of all new forests as compatible with protection and enhancement of the environment.
Pat Collins said that the IFA had been told by the Forest Service that once this work was completed, the 20% restriction on planting unenclosed land would be removed and the grant and premium rates would be reviewed as part of the mid-term review of the Forestry Programme process to reflect the quality of the land that was being planted.
“Farmers are growing increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress by the Forest Service to open up this land. I have no doubt that if the restrictions were removed it would reinvigorate the afforestation programme, and particularly farmers’ interest in the forestry, which has been waning in recent years,” Pat Collins said.
He continued that there is no reason why the Forest Service cannot remove the restrictions immediately as the assessment process for land suitability for afforestation reflect what happens in other European countries and satisfies the Rural Development Regulation requirements related to the afforestation and creation of woodlands.