Thursday, 8 December 2005
Department of Agriculture and Food
The forest service of my Department has issued approvals for some 40,000 hectares of new forestry over the last two years. The vast majority of these approvals have issued to farmers and, to date, many have chosen not to act upon them. At this point in time, therefore, I have no firm information on which to base a projection of planting levels for next year but it would be reasonable to assume that the level would be at least that of recent years, that is, 10,000 to 11,000 hectares. Clearly, given the number of approvals which my Department has processed, it could be higher and I hope it will be.
The year 2006 is the last year of the current rural development programme, which provides the most attractive financial package ever for new forestry, including 100% grant aid for planting and substantial annual tax-free premiums, which runs for 20 years in the case of farmers. I would also remind farmers that under the single payment scheme up to 50% of land can be planted, and forestry premium payments can be made, without affecting the single payment entitlement. This makes forestry a real proposition for farmers who have not already planted. I would also point out that those who plant in 2006, under the very attractive terms of the current scheme, will continue to benefit from those terms even after the new EU rural development regulation comes into force in 2007. In the circumstance, there is a compelling case for farmers, in particular, to plant now.