The State is to again buy land for forestry to meet climate change targets. Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has said the State “should be a player again, in terms of afforestation”, and it also wants all farmers to plant a piece of their land. The Government’s own climate action plan acknowledges that Ireland will not achieve its 18% land-coverage target by 2046.
“We have missed our targets, and issues around the State getting back into active afforestation is something that is under consideration,” Mr Creed told the Irish Examiner. “Plus, how a new forestry programme might need to be designed to make it more attractive to farmers is equally important.
“I am open to the State re-entering, to try and drive the process forward.”
He wants Coillte to start buying land and said the State-owned commercial forestry business would benefit from the expansion.
“Coillte has been out of forestry, other than managing its existing forest plantations. It has not been active in planting new lands for quite some time.
“Coillte has a vested interest: Iit requires constant supply of timber for its own industries — Medite, biomass — so it’s a sensible fit for them, in terms of their core activities to be involved in afforestation.”
However, the minister also wants private land-owners — who currently make up half of the sector — to play their part in increasing the amount of forestry across the country. He suggested that every farmer could be asked to plant part of their land and this could be linked up to payments through the Common Agricultural Policy.
The number of farmers who plant land has not been as high as expected.
“Part of that is because of the perception that if you plant your land, that, in some way, you failed as a farmer,” said Mr Creed. “It’s not looked on like any other crop ... just because it takes a longer period to grow, but it delivers hugely for the State, so we need to look at how to do that.
“We must regain a control of the narrative that forestry is a positive thing. Certainly, there were mistakes in the past and communities are understandably engaged in the forestry debate, because of the past experience.
“But the afforestation programme today is very different to that. It’s not exclusively sitka spruce; it’s not plantations right up to the public roadway any longer, so we have learned from the mistakes of the past.
“We cannot abandon afforestation, because, if we do, then the challenge is much more significant. In the context of the next Common Agriculture Policy, it will be important to explore how we make forestry attractive to more farmers.”