Farmers could be financially rewarded for planting trees on land under new forestry initiative

Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue is looking at ways to radically increase the amount of afforestation in the country to help Ireland's climate targets
Farmers could be financially rewarded for planting trees on land under new forestry initiative

Environment Minister Eamon Ryan has also stressed the importance of afforestation and said the amount of land planted each year must dramatically increase to meet the climate targets set down. File picture: Julien Behal Photography/PA Wire

The Agriculture Minister is looking at ways to financially encourage all farmers to plant trees on some of their land as part of efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Charlie McConalogue said there was "still a long way to go" to change the mindset so farmers see forestry as another way of using their land alongside beef, dairy or tillage.

He has said planting part of their land should now be seen as "a real option" and an "opportunity" for farmers and is looking at ways to make it financially enticing to grow extra trees or encourage hedgerows.

It comes as the country has slipped well below its afforestation targets with only about 3,000 hectares of the promised 8,000-hectare annual target planted last year.

"I think there's still a long way to go to where farmers can embrace forestry as an element of what they do on the farm," the minister said.

"We've a lot more progress that we can make on that because it is a great crop to grow. And we have to look at different models and look to how it can be embraced alongside other forms of agriculture, but we're at a low ebb at the moment," Mr McConalogue told the Irish Examiner.

"The objective is to get to an average of 8,000 hectares per year. We've had a real challenge over the last year in relation to licensing, which has been a real challenge within the Department of Agriculture," he said.

Issues with licensing

Instead of increasing the amount of trees planted, significant issues with licensing and the appeals process mean those in the industry now expect the amount of land covered in forestry to drop from 11% to 10%. This is significantly below the 17% target.

However, Mr McConalogue pointed to the success of the Results-Based Environment Agri Pilot Programme (REAP) which gives additional payments to farmers who plant new hedges or trees.

"I think there's real opportunity there and we do have to look at forestry to not just as a full-blown harvest, but look at it in terms of how we can integrate into the wider farming platform.

"That's a space with lots of potential, and one that we absolutely do intend to develop," Mr McConalogue said, adding that the next Common Agriculture Policy, currently being finalised, will "very much consider" this.

Environment Minister Eamon Ryan has also stressed the importance of afforestation and said the amount of land planted each year must dramatically increase to meet the climate targets set down.

Given the lead time for newly planted forests to become significant carbon sinks, we must ensure that afforestation rates match and exceed current levels over the next 10 years and out to 2050 as we strive for climate neutrality.

"Although afforestation over the next 10 years will contribute to achieving compliance against our 2030 climate targets, the forests planted within the last 30 years will provide the majority of the sequestration over this decade," he said.

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