A recent Agricultural Consultants’ Association (ACA) poll of its adviser members found a “zero level” farmer interest in the new €1.3bn Forestry Programme, claims the group’s president Noel Feeney.

“A recent poll of ACA farm advisers found a zero level of interest among their farmer clients. The ACA is of the view that there is no interest within the farming community for forestry,” Feeney told Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue last week at the group’s AGM.

Feeney stated that these figures were a “real pity” given the potential for farmers to improve margins while contributing to the environmental targets.

He suggested that such a low level of interest was not surprising, and called on Minister McConalogue to push through key changes to forestry policy.

Forestry planning regulations must be “completely revamped”, ash dieback must be addressed immediately and forestry must be “mainstreamed into farming” Feeney said.

When the floor was opened to adviser questions, the minister was pushed on the funding Teagasc received from the Department to provide forestry advisers at no charge to farmers.

Tipperary-based consultant Richard Rea claimed Teagasc was using free forestry advice as a “loss leader” and stated that this was “probably” against EU competition rules, as advisers operating outside of Teagasc were put at a disadvantage. Rea also called on Minister McConalogue to “consider reducing the budget to Teagasc in respect of their lower productivity”.

This comment came after the minister noted that the majority of scheme applications are made by private consultants, rather than by Teagasc.