The delay in approval for the Government’s €1.3bn forestry programme will have serious implications for the targets set out in the Climate Action Plan 2023, Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) farm forestry chair Jason Fleming has warned.

It is now nearly five months since the new forestry programme was announced, yet approval is still pending, he said. The climate plan has a target to plant 8,000ha per annum up to 2025.

Speaking following a meeting with Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue this week, the IFA said that the Minister advised that discussions are progressing with the European Commission and that the Department is working to get the programme open as soon as possible.

“He encouraged farmers with technical approval to plant under the interim afforestation scheme (via general de minimis) and avail of the higher grants and premiums announced under the new programme,” the IFA said.

Approximately 1,000 afforestation applications to plant 7,600ha are currently in the system that satisfy this requirement, it added.


Fleming said that the requirement for farmers to set aside 35% of land area to non-productive areas (20% broadleaf planting and 15% areas of biodiversity enhancement) while only receiving a payment on the land for 20 years was a barrier to those considering planting.

“Farmers need to paid on this land beyond the 20 years and compensated for the loss of timber earnings.

"The pilot payment for ecosystem service announced under the programme is positive, but we need to see this expanded and paid beyond the seven years proposed,” he said.

Ash dieback

In relation to ash dieback, he said that farmers are being told that they will be the drivers of the afforestation programme, but the reality is that farmers will be very slow to permanently convert land to forestry based on the experiences of some farmers, particularly those who have been affected by ash dieback.

He called on the Minister to overhaul the Reconstitution and Underplanting Scheme and compensate farmers for the financial costs of the disease to their ash woodlands as a matter of urgency.

Non-farmer planting

The IFA said that there was a lengthy discussion on the lack of safeguards with regards to the scale of non-farmer planting that had taken place under the previous programme and the socio-economic implications for rural communities.

“The scale of non-farmer planting under the previous programme is a serious concern to rural communities and the possible negative impacts on rural towns and villages need to be fully understood,” Fleming said.

In 2020, according to the figures published by the Department, non-farmer planting accounted for 86% of new planting.

“It cannot be planting at any cost to meet afforestation targets. Research is needed to fully understand the impacts of non-farmer planting on rural communities, particularly in areas of the country where the density of the non-farmer within townlands is significant,” he said.