ICSA Rural Development chairman Billy Gray has cautiously welcomed the Land Availability for Afforestation report launched by Minister Tom Hayes.
“ICSA has been calling for forestry supports to be made more attractive and to be applied over a longer term to reflect the real cost of putting land into forestry. For this plan to meet its full potential, better supports must be put in place,” he said.
Commenting on the grant aid and premium payments promised to all landowners, over a 15- year period, who afforest a part of their land holding, Mr Gray said “if this plan is supported properly, forestry can become a viable alternative which would not only benefit those farmers whose land is more suited to forestry, it would also benefit those who remain in livestock farming.
“There is a need to accept that a change of land use and reduction in livestock numbers due to farmers being attracted to alternatives is good for the remaining livestock farmers.
“We cannot continue to produce as much beef as we do at a loss. ICSA believes that up to 5% of land being switched to forestry and other non-livestock enterprises would be better for all farmers in the long run.”
The report identifies over 2.5m acres of land currently used for agriculture that would be better suited to forestry
“Afforestation of this land could even help to prevent extensive flooding such as we have experienced over the last few weeks.
“Forests can act as a barrier to floodwater, with trees increasing water absorption into the ground, they also prevent soil erosion and reduce sediment going in rivers all of which would help to lower peak flood levels,” he said.