Forest owners have reacted angrily to Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue’s position on carbon credits from forestry.

In an exclusive interview with the Irish Farmers Journal, the minister said that farmers who planted forestry on their land with State funding do not own the carbon credits on that land and cannot sell those credits.

Irish Forest Owners (IFO), which represents over 1,400 private forest growers through its producer groups, has described the comments as feeling like a “knockout punch to Irish Forestry”.

IFO chair Nicholas Sweetman has said that to suggest that farmers’ carbon credits can be hijacked by the State “adds insult to injury and is simply intolerable”.

The organisation has called on Minister McConalogue to either immediately withdraw his comments in relation to forestry carbon credits or to provide the legal basis for his assertion on the State’s ownership of the carbon credits.

'State-inflicted share cropping'

Sean Eustace, Wicklow Private Woodland Owners, said that carbon is sequestered by the land user through their use of the land.

“For forestry or any other crop, whether grant-aided or not, the State cannot be allowed to grab the carbon credits. We won’t accept state-inflicted share cropping or any other form of farm ownership diminution,” he insisted.

Under the Afforestation Scheme 2014-2020, farmers and landowners can avail of a grant for the planting of new woodlands, along with annual premiums.

Charlie Doherty, Donegal Woodland Owners Society, said that the premiums have always been viewed as compensation for income forgone by the landowner during the early period of forest growth.

However, due to the need to plant more diverse, mixed-species woodlands, most of which do not accrue any value until decades after planting, forest owners are now looking to carbon trading as a way to obtain some financial return from their woodlands within their lifetime.

Financial aid

“We must, as a nation, respect and nurture the long-term nature of forestry. Under the current forestry scheme, forest owners receive minimal financial aid after 15 years,” said John Sherlock, North Eastern Forestry Group.

“Being able to trade in the woodlands’ carbon sequestration will provide an ongoing income for the brave forest owner, who in reality planted a marginal-income forest enterprise, and also those whom we wish to encourage to do so in the future.”

Olive Leavy from the Westmeath Farm Forestry Group and secretary of IFO, said the minister’s remarks fly in the face of a key objective of the recently published EU New Forest Strategy 2030, the Carbon Farming Initiative.

It says that remuneration of mitigation efforts, through incentive payments or the generation of tradable carbon certificates, will create a new business model that intends to provide a new source of income to farmers, foresters and land managers who implement sustainable activities leading to carbon removals and storage.

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Watch back: around the editor’s table with Minister Charlie McConalogue