Dáil Debates & Questions December 2016

Dáil Debates & Questions December 2016

(1)            Afforestation Programme – 6th December 2016

  1. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan     asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine     the extent to which he can generate an increase in forestry development through the use of marginal lands with the objective of increased carbon sequestration and good environmental practice; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38861/16]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Michael Creed):     The current Forestry Programme, covering the period 2015-2020, ensures continued state support for the two key objectives of increasing forest cover and wood mobilisation. Almost €500 million of investment over the six year programme period will facilitate an increase in forest cover by almost 44,000 hectares over the period of the Programme. The level of afforestation grant and premiums, allied to the tax treatment of income from forests provide good incentives for landowners to plant a proportion of their holding. Forests established in the period since 1990 are forecast to remove up to 4.5m tonnes per annum of carbon dioxide over the period 2021–2030.

All applications are considered under the afforestation scheme where approvals are subject to minimum productivity thresholds, a public consultation process and adherence to environmental guidelines. However, marginal land is best suited for forestry as it is generally less productive for agriculture. Where farmers are under utilising their land the Department encourages planting on the more marginal fields while maintaining the herd size which is left to graze on the remaining fields. In this way agricultural output is maintained and a valuable asset with environmental benefits is established.

The development of marginal land for forestry has been positively impacted by two recent initiatives. The first of these is the introduction of a new approach to land classification system from a forest productivity perspective and the second is a full review and consolidation of environmental requirements for afforestation. Both of these developments should help increase planting on marginal sites in line with good environmental practices.

(2)            Forestry Sector – 16 December 2016

  1. Deputy Brendan Smith     asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine     if his attention has been drawn to widespread concerns in communities in County Cavan and elsewhere in relation to the purchase of land for afforestation by persons who are not dependent on farming as an income; if his attention has been further drawn to the fact that in many cases farmers who wish to purchase adjoining holdings to make their own farms viable are deprived of these opportunities due to the demand for such land from non-farmers; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [40940/16]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Michael Creed):     I am aware of some negativity surrounding forestry in County Cavan and neighbouring counties in recent months and particularly the planting of land by non farmers. A total of 24 landowners who classified themselves as non-farmers planted forests in Co Cavan so far during 2016; it’s worth noting that 17 of these had addresses in Co. Cavan itself. So far in 2016 there were no private institutional investors approved for payment under the afforestation scheme in the county.  The total area planted by non farmers represented 53% of all new planting during the year which is above the national average.  It is difficult to determine however if the 24 non-farmer individuals already owned the land or if they had bought the land specifically to plant. It is worth noting that farmers are entitled to sell their land to the highest bidder and if forestry is improving the price that farmers can receive for their land then these landowners stand to benefit.

According to the CSO Census of Agriculture 2010, the average farm size in Co Cavan is 26.4 hectares while the average forest established by non-farmers in Co Cavan since the launch of the new forestry programme is just 7.2 hectares. This suggests that in situations where non-farmers are buying land for forestry they are not buying entire farms for this purpose.

In 2016 alone, forestry payments worth over €2.6m were paid by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to just under 430 landowners with Cavan addresses. These payments are an important source of income not just for people in direct receipt of these payments but also for local shops, petrol stations and other local businesses which are a vital part of a rural community. According to the latest national forest inventory total forest cover in the county is just 8.7% which is well below the national average which stands at 10.5%. The Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine therefore plan to continue to offer forestry as a land use option for farmers and non-farmers throughout the country.