Margaret Donnelly: ‘It‘s time for the government to make forestry attractive for all farmers‘

Our national forestry programme needs a radical overhaul if it‘s to attract a broad cross-section of farmers to plant.

For far too long there has been a ‘them and us‘ attitude in forestry: ‘them‘ being farmers with marginal land or looking to retire, or even the State, and the ‘us‘ generally comprising ‘progressive‘ farmers with good ground who would never contemplate planting.

There is a prevalent feeling among farmers that planting your land is a sign of defeat and failure – an admission that you‘ve given up trying to get the best out of your holding.

A troubling narrative appears to have taken hold among commercial farmers in the east and south, plus industry leaders and even policymakers, that the forestry conundrum is a problem for the ‘guys out west‘.

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“Sure isn‘t it a great little earner for them” seems to be the line being peddled.

This mindset disregards the core instincts of farmers, even those with so-called ‘poorer land‘, who wish to work and retain the farms of their forebears.

It also disregards clear research findings which show that 80pc of farmers will not plant regardless of the financial incentive.

Forestry is by far the easiest and best method of carbon sequestration, and there‘s no reason every farm in the country can‘t do more. Further, if managed correctly it can become a valuable amenity and an attractive business proposition.

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An attitude that forestry should be kept for poorer land – vast stretches of plantations to offset the emissions output of other sectors – won‘t benefit anyone in the long run.

Mindsets can be hard to change, as can regulations. But when regulations are so heavy-handed and a deterrent to progress, things need to change.

The backlog in licensing approval has been described by the Minister of State as unacceptable. But it is regulations around environmental impact statements that are causing backlogs. The irony of this won‘t be lost on many, particularly those living in areas that have suffered from ‘blanket afforestation‘.

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The environmental impact of forestry extends to the social environment, and it‘s imperative that we get our forestry policy on track for the greater good as soon as possible.

It‘s time for the Government to restructure its forestry policy and make it attractive for all farmers to plant some of their ground, rather than concentrating planting activity in parts of the west and northwest.

Indo Farming

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