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Farmers should look at option of planting trees

14 January 2006


Jim Allister has suggested farmers to look at the option of planting some of their land in trees.  The MEP made the comments at a time when many farmers are deciding how best to manage their land and retain their Single Farm Payment.


Mr Allister commented, “Many farmers have used a significant proportion of their Single Farm Payment over the last 12 months in order to support livestock production.  These farmers are now considering how best to retain their Single Farm Payment and get an economic return from the land they own.


“I would urge farmers to consider if establishing woodland on their land would serve their needs.  Although this will not suit all farmers, it may suit some who cannot farm their land without eating into their Single Farm Payment but do not want to rent their land as conacre.


“Last year DARD announced that it is now possible for farmers planting land in forestry and consolidate up to 50% of their Single Farm Payment entitlements unto a smaller area and still retain all of their Single Farm Payment.  These farmers can also avail of the Farm Woodland Grant Scheme and the Farm Woodland Premium Scheme in order to pay for the establishment of woodland and to compensate for the agricultural income foregone. 


Northern Ireland has very little land covered in forestry compared to other regions of Europe and the average area planted annually within Northern Ireland is decreasing rather than increasing.



On the wider issue of how the Forest Service Agency performs, I have written this week to DARD Minister, Lord Rooker, in the following terms:-


Dear Minister,


I write to you on the subject of forestry in Northern Ireland and the future thereof.


With the welcome opportunity since 1 January 2006 for farmers to stack their single farm payment and use 50% of their land for woodland, with no prejudice to the SFP, and with many farmers unsure how to proceed in these uncertain times, now, I believe is an opportune time to give a fresh impetus to development of woodlands.  Moreover, with forestry having to be part of the mix in the Rural Development Package agreed under the Budget, and with DARD therefore having to come up with plans which fit within that envelope, now, would be a good time for fresh thinking and proposals.


My perception of our present Forest Service Agency is that it is too inward-looking, seeming largely to be interested in its own woodland areas and the encouragement of further public use thereof.   I note 2004-5 Annual Report of the Forest Service shows a decline, from the previous year, in the forested area, the level of acquisition, timber production, new planting and replanting. Key targets have not been attained. Retrenchment, rather than advancement seems to be the order of the day. It is in the area of private planting that greatest encouragement is needed.


The key issues being canvassed in the pending but overdue NI Forest Policy Review, particularly the focus on acquiring vesting powers, suggest a pre-occupation with publicly controlled assets, whereas, I believe, a more expansive view, which actively encourages private development of forestry, is necessary.


I also wonder if the opportunities in forestry to help meet the requirements for effluent disposal from the agricultural sector, arising from the constraints flowing from the Nitrates Directive, have been fully exploited.  For example, has sludge injection in forested areas been fully evaluated as an option?


I would, therefore, urge the Department to take a timely look at these issues.


Yours sincerely,


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Agriculture and Environment