Comprehensive Ash Dieback Plan to be Presented to Cabinet within Two Weeks
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), Pippa Hackett, has announced that a comprehensive implementation plan for ash dieback will be brought before Cabinet for approval in the next two weeks. This follows an independent review of supports for farmers impacted by ash dieback, which described the tree disease as a “national emergency”. Minister Hackett stated that a review of the report is almost complete and that efforts are being made to restore confidence among farmers affected by the disease. She made these comments at the International Agroforestry Conference in Bantry, Co. Cork.
Agroforestry as a Solution to Climate Change
The conference, attended by approximately 200 people, focused on the role of trees in combating climate change and supporting farm enterprises. Agroforestry, the integration of trees with crops or livestock on the same land, was highlighted as an option under the ash dieback Reconstitution and Underplanting Scheme (RUS) by the Department of Agriculture. The new Forestry Programme offers enhanced tax-free agroforestry payments of €8,555 per hectare for silvopasture systems, which involve trees and grass. Furthermore, farmers can now receive a higher premium rate of €975 per hectare for a period of 10 years, instead of the previous five years. Pilot schemes for silvoarable systems, forest gardening, and forest farming are also being run by the department.
Minister Hackett emphasized the benefits of agroforestry, stating that it can bridge the gap between agriculture and forestry. She expressed disappointment with the uptake of agroforestry under the initial 2015 scheme, which fell short of the target of 200 hectares by 2020, with only just over 50 hectares being planted. However, she remains optimistic about increased interest in agroforestry due to the improved financial incentives and available advice. Land classified as agroforestry is eligible for payments under various schemes, including the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS), the Agri-Climate Rural Environmental Scheme (ACRES), the Basic Income for Sustainability Support (BISS), and the Eco-Scheme.
Efforts to Expedite Payments to Farmers
In addition to discussing agroforestry, Minister Hackett addressed concerns regarding delayed payments to farmers. The department is working diligently to process payments for the Basic Income Support for Sustainability (BISS), the Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) scheme, and the eco-scheme. The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) has urged the department to ensure that farmers receive all outstanding payments without further delay. Minister Hackett acknowledged the delays and reassured farmers that efforts are being made to issue the payments as soon as possible.
In conclusion, the comprehensive implementation plan for ash dieback is expected to be presented to Cabinet for approval within the next two weeks. The focus on agroforestry at the International Agroforestry Conference highlights its potential in combating climate change and supporting farm enterprises. Efforts are also being made to expedite payments to farmers, addressing concerns raised by the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association.