Forestry planting by non-farmers up 150pc
There was a 150pc surge in the levels of forestry planted by non-farmers last year, official figures reveal.
The new Department of Agriculture data shows that 35pc of the total area planted in 2016 was carried out by non-farming private investors.
Counties with the highest proportion of non-farming investors - more than 40pc - include: Leitrim, Longford, Clare and Cavan.
However, forestry companies have been quick to point out that the sharp rise comes from a low baseline figure of just a 3pc nationwide increase in forestry last year.
Although there has been much political and some farm community criticism over the Government's planting ambitions, industry leaders say rural dwellers are mainly behind the 150pc surge.
John O'Reilly, CEO of Green Belt, Ireland's largest private forestry company, says the figure is "very positive".
"It's a good thing. Forestry is an integrated part of land use policy, it makes no sense to me to have marginal land that is suitable for forestry not planted."
He claims that much of the 150pc are "traditional rural folk" or "part-time farmers".
"There is a vast category of people out there who are elderly, widowed, incapable of farming but are landowners and traditional rural dwellers who were renting their land but couldn't qualify at the higher rate of farmer premium because they weren't actively farming or didn't have an active herd number.
"Now they can so a hell of a lot of them have created pent up demand.
"The figure is by no means a reflection that some swathe of non-farmer, city folk, investment companies or vulture funds have come into planting. The big pick up is due to non active farmers who couldn't qualify under the rules of the old scheme," he said.
The figures also show that some 6,499ha of forestry was planted in 2016 - up 215ha on 2015 figures.
Around 30pc of total forestry planting took place in Connacht last year, while Cork saw the largest area of land planted with over 600ha - 9pc of the national total.
Former Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith has highlighted widespread concerns in communities in relation to the purchase of land for forestry by persons not dependent on farming as an income.
Sinn Fein TD Martin Kenny raised concerns over non-farmers getting the same level of forestry grant as an active farmer.
"I accept the whole afforestation drive is to reduce CO2 emissions.
"However, small farmers, particularly in Sligo and Leitrim, have seen this become a gravy train for wealthy people to make much money at their expense," he said.
For Stories Like This and More
Download the Free Farming Independent App