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Independent.ie

Sunday 11 December 2016

Back to basics on forestry

There's no turning back once you have committed yourself to forestry so check out all the pros and cons before planting any trees on your land

Steven Meyen

Published 23/03/2016 | 02:30

The roundwood supply from Irish forests will increase significantly over the next two decades, with almost all of the increase coming from Irish privately-owned forests.
The roundwood supply from Irish forests will increase significantly over the next two decades, with almost all of the increase coming from Irish privately-owned forests.

Several people contacted me following my last forestry feature a couple of weeks ago looking for clarification how the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) entitlements interact with forestry.

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No wonder. These rules and regulations are fairly complex. So hopefully the following will make things a bit clearer!

It is essential to do your homework carefully when considering forestry. Forestry is a one way street. Prior to committing yourself, you need to check out all the pros and cons and see if a forest enterprise is for you. It is a great alternative farm enterprise: it definitely will suit some but it won't suit all.

One of the interactions that you need to investigate carefully is how forestry will interact with the Basic Payment Scheme. By adhering to strict criteria, many applicants can continue receiving entitlements on the afforested land.

This means in a nutshell that if eligible land was declared in an SPS application in 2008 and was afforested in any year since 2009 or will be planted in 2016 under the Forestry Programme 2014-2020, then the land can continue to be eligible for a BPS payment provided it satisfies a number of conditions.

I will try to explain the main criteria you will need to adhere to in a bit more detail below.

First of all, if you are to retain your BPS on the land, it is important to point out that the land to be planted was declared on a 2008 SPS application form and that you (the applicant) who declared that land on a 2008 SPS application form were paid under the 2008 Single Payment Scheme.

In addition, the land you planted (or you hope to plant) in 2016 was eligible to draw down an SPS payment in 2008.

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In order to continue to be regarded as an active farmer for the purpose of retaining eligibility for BPS, you must retain at least 10pc of the eligible hectares declared in 2008 (by you or your predecessor) in an agricultural activity subject to a minimum area of three hectares.

This basically means that following planting, you must continue to be actively involved in farming and that at least 10pc of your holding (with a minimum of three hectares) is still eligible farmland.

Minimum area

I would strongly advise not to cut it too fine and to remain well above the minimum area required as I am aware of a few cases where a farmer ended up with an agricultural area just below the minimum required area.

If you are a new entrant to farming, then the minimum area to be retained in an agricultural activity will be fixed by the Department on a case by case basis.

All entitlements allocated under BPS and the National Reserve are subject to a two year usage rule.

Any entitlements that remain unused for two consecutive years will revert back to the National Reserve. The rotation of entitlements that was available under SPS is not available under BPS.

If you wish to benefit from the BPS on afforested land, you must be the person (or persons in joint management) in receipt of the afforestation premium. This applies to members of the same family.

Bought or inherited land can be considered for planting. It may also be eligible for a BPS payment provided it satisfies all of the eligibility criteria outlined above.

Where an area within a forest had to be left unplanted because of ESB lines, it can be eligible for BPS provided such an area is fenced off from the forest and has a separate access.

It is also necessary that such an unplanted area is actively farmed and maintained in Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition.

Foliage Crops, Short Rotation Coppice and Energy Crops (such as willow and miscanthus) can be eligible for the BPS. In that case, Parcel Use should indicate Foliage, Short Rotation Coppice, Willow or Miscanthus sinensis respectively.

However, areas under Christmas trees are not eligible for the Basic Payment.

And finally, similar to other payments from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, planted land must continue to meet all requirements of the relevant Forest Service scheme under which it was afforested.

Eligible forestry parcels declared on a BPS application to activate entitlements are subject to cross-compliance requirements.

Forestry and your BPS form

So, how do you fill out your BPS application form? If you are in receipt of forest establishment grant aid then you are required to declare all those land parcels on your 2016 BPS application form. Failure to declare grant-aided afforested parcels on the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine's land parcel identification system (LPIS) could affect future forestry grant/premium payments.

If you planted a forest before 2009, you should declare the land as Forestry in column 9 ("Parcel Use").If you planted a forest between 2009 and 2015, you should declare the land as Forestry Eligible in column 9.

If you plant a grant-aided forest in 2016 before submitting your application, you should declare the land as Forestry 2016 in column 9.

However, if you hope to plant later this year but haven't done so yet at the time of your BPS application, then it is essential that you declare the correct current parcel use. If such a parcel is planted after the date of your BPS application then an amendment form must be submitted. In that case, you can put Forestry 2016 in column 9 on the amendment form.

The table opposite provides a summary of the BPS application requirements for applicants with forest parcels which will vary according to the time of their forest establishment.

If you are submitting your BPS application online, keep in mind that any land displayed as Forestry Eligible on the parcel list online, if amended for any reason, cannot be changed back to Forestry Eligible. In that case, it will be necessary to write to the Department requesting this change.

The above information will allow you to get your BPS application in to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in very good time before the deadline of Monday, May 16.

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