Chalara outbreak is a 'wake-up' call and needs an innovative response
The call from the IFA for the full 20-year premium payment to be paid to farmers who must replant ash woodland that has been infected by Chalara fraxinea was predictable but not really practical.
Those individuals who have to wait a further 20 years or more before their fresh crop can begin to earn an income are undeniably at a loss.
However, it cannot be made an attractive option to have one's woodland cleared and replanted.
An unscrupulous person might be tempted to deliberately introduce the disease, which would then spread more rapidly. There have been situations in the past where it was profitable to have livestock purchased by the Department of Agriculture during an eradication scheme.
This led to cases of people introducing a disease deliberately or faking its symptoms in order to gain compensation. The vast majority of landowners would not dream of acting in such a manner but, human nature being what it is, there will always be a few who have little regard for the greater good of their local community and the nation.
Similarly, if a landowner has a crop of ash that is not thriving for reasons such as the unsuitability of the site or whatever, that person would also profit from either a restart of premiums or the right to bring the land back into mainstream agricultural production.
It is imperative, however, that the Forest Service come up with a practical scheme that is both fair to the landowner and ensures full compliance with the efforts to stamp out any disease outbreak.
Retaining the original broadleaf premium levels whenever Sitka spruce is used for replanting could be one option. The cost would not be prohibitive and it would compensate partially for the loss of, say, five or more years of growth of an ash crop.