Majority of dairy farmers willing to plant forestry

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Joe Kelleher

Joe Kelleher

A recent survey of dairy farmers which showed that 84pc would be willing to plant trees on their farm is a clear signal that farmers are willing to make a contribution to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The challenges facing farmers in relation to climate change have been very much to the fore for the past month or so.

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In June, the Government launched the Climate Action Plan setting a target of a reduction of between 10-15pc in agricultural emissions by 2030.

Shortly after, the draft Mercosur trade agreement was signed which gave rise to concerns about the potential environmental consequences of the deal

And then in early July we had the Moorepark open day which had a 'Growing Sustainably' theme. Ways of mitigating emissions from agriculture were at the core of many of the boards on display on the day.

This has put the climate change issue at the front of many farmers' minds, but is this only the start of it? There are currently three schemes being reviewed or designed, and it looks like environmental considerations are going to become a permanent part of our mindset.

The nitrates derogation is currently going through an interim review, to be completed by the end of the year.

This could add further environmental obligations on this cohort of farmers.

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Areas such as slurry storage, buffer zones, lime spreading and education are most likely amongst the items being debated and some minor changes could arise from these discussions.

Greening accounts for 30pc of the total Basic Payment funding that Irish farmers receive. Grassland farmers receive this payment automatically.

This could be about to change. One of the boards on display in Moorepark entitled 'Enhancing Biodiversity on Irish Dairy farms' included the line: "New CAP will set a minimum area for wildlife habitats on all farms" and went on to state that currently Irish dairy farms have 6-10pc of their area under habitats. Could this become a condition for receiving the greening payment?

The third scheme that should materialise is a new REPS or GLAS-type scheme.

It is safe to say that this scheme will be designed to include measures that have the biggest impact on reducing emissions and that will greatly enhance the biodiversity on our farms.

I had a chat with one of my woodland advisory colleagues last week and he asked me what are dairy farmers attitudes to the planting of trees on their farms. I said the easiest way to find out was to ask them.

So we designed a quick survey with 10 questions to find out what way farmers were thinking.

Modern technology is great. Within 24 hours, we had a survey designed, sent it to a cohort of Limerick dairy farmers and 45 responses were received.

While the numbers were small and only represent a small cohort of farmers in a particular part of the country, it still gives an insight into what farmers are thinking on this subject.

Two responses in particular stood out: n 84pc of those surveyed said they would be willing to plant trees on their farm of those, 93pc would do so because they felt they would be making a contribution to the environment.

n Farmers, however, are only willing to plant less than 5pc of the area they were farming.

Field corners or narrow strips of trees alongside existing field margins were the preferred sites and broadleaved trees was their overwhelming preference.

None of the farmers surveyed felt the need to reduce stocking rate as a result of tree planting.

We then presented the results at a local discussion group to get feedback.

Some of the feedback we received included: n The current woodland incentives available to farmers (including the Agro Forestry Scheme and Native Woodland Establishment Scheme) are not appealing to dairy farmers in their current format. n Farmers with a high proportion of leased land may have challenges meeting future environmental targets if schemes don't take account of leased land. n Many farmers are holding off planting trees and creating new habitats until details of future schemes are known for fear they will not receive credit for these works.

This last point sums up farmers views in relation to their attitude and willingness to embrace the environmental challenges that are coming.

Farmers are willing to make their contribution to reduce emissions and improve farm biodiversity. But until the details of the schemes outlined above are known, farmers are in somewhat of an environmental limbo.

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