In the last week we have learned that the Department of Agriculture is not going to incentivise suckler farmers to change or transition into sheep, tillage or another cattle-rearing enterprise. The option of a funded voluntary exit scheme was taken off the table.

So instead the Department is prepared to pay a private investor, often maybe not living in Ireland, tax-free premiums and EU entitlements to make a financial investment decision stack up financially.

Think about the Department of Agriculture’s balance sheet on this. The existing small suckler farmer, predominantly in the west of Ireland, doesn’t get a choice to avail of a partial incentive to change enterprise.

On the other hand, the large investment company locks in premiums for 15 years, and maybe European entitlements, that make a financial investment stack up relative to other financial investments, plus seed capital from the Government.

I’ve nothing in principle against forestry or private investors. However, surely in terms of return to the local area, suckler farmers who have invested on the land in the past (slurry tanks, sheds, machinery etc), and want to change or diversify, deserve more funding options than a large private investor that has no inherent tie into the local economy soaking up large tracts of land.

These financial investors have no obligation to stay in the investment, no obligation to set foot in Ireland, and, sometimes, deliver little or no return to local shops and businesses.

This is not an argument against forestry. However, when suckler farmers are almost given no choice for just transition, and others get carte blanche, you can understand why it raises serious concerns.


Farmers have been excluded from considering forestry as an option by the poor performance of the Department.

So this narrative that outside investors with money are needed to solve our climate ambitions and provide a walkway for townspeople is a difficult pill to swallow.

This may seem a simplistic analysis, but this is how it is being perceived on the ground.

Does the minister believe farmers are naïve enough to think that just because the farm organisations or the meat factories didn’t sign up to the Food Vision beef report, that is the main reason for taking the scientific advice of a reduction scheme for livestock farmers off the table?

The expert group established by the minister said this should be an option to meet the greatest challenge we face as a society. The same way Coillte has a vision to capture more carbon and enhance biodiversity to meet that challenge.

So reading between the lines, the minister is saying the forestry investors can get the money long term, while people farming the land don’t even get the option to take a voluntary exit or reduction scheme, to transition how they farm, if they so wished.

Our own survey work and any private dialogue I have had suggests a considerable cohort would have taken advantage of an exit or reduction scheme.

My understanding is that the farm organisations’ position was more that they couldn’t sign up to a pig in a poke as they were waiting on the minister to put numbers on a real, attractive financial incentive, but, in the end, we didn’t even get that far.

Greatest challenge

While recognising the climate emergency is the greatest challenge we face as a society, there is more than one way to skin a cat.

Pouring millions into an investment fund so investors get a better financial return won’t do much for the economic sustainability of the existing local farmers.

The land might increase in value, but when a farmer sells land he or she effectively leaves the business – it’s black and white. The same way when land is planted in trees it’s a permanent decision – it’s black and white.

The forestry investors and others talk about the social gain for the public and that forests are the largest outdoor recreation amenity in the country.

Livestock farmers, plenty of whom have some trees and forests, also have walkways, greenways and walking paths across a far greater area than what Coillte or any other forester can provide in Ireland.

Not putting a voluntary scheme on the table seems ill-judged and seems at odds with current Government investment in forestry.