A quarter of the country’s farmland is at risk of being taken out of crop and livestock production entirely or having output “significantly reduced”, the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) has warned.

The hill farmer body claimed that almost 1.2m hectares has been earmarked for afforestation, rewetting or is likely to be designated.

This total equates to over 25% of the 4.3m hectares of farmland in receipt of CAP payments.

INHFA president Vincent Roddy pointed out that the current Forestry Strategy will require the planting of a further 385,000ha land.

“In addition to this we are also looking at a further 300,000ha of farmed peatlands being rewetted under the EU Nature Restoration Regulation by 2050,” Roddy said.

Biodiversity strategy

The EU Biodiversity Strategy could double the area of land currently designated in order to reach the target of 30% set for member states in this strategy, he added.

“This is an additional 900,000ha. However, this could also include the 300,000ha of rewetted peatlands. On this basis the additional designated land would be 600,000ha,” the INHFA president explained.

“Add all this up and you are looking at a total of 1,185,000ha of land,” Roddy said.

If all these land-use measures are fully implemented, the INHFA maintained that traditional farming will cease on the 585,000ha of land earmarked for planting and rewetting, while activity on the 600,000ha of designated land will be severely reduced.

“All of this will have obvious implications in relation to farming output but also very drastic implications for many rural communities. This is why it is so important that farmers, business and our public representatives understand what is happening and hold the line in fighting against this,” Roddy said.