Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Thursday 22 February 2018

Farmer says politicians will 'devastate' the west of Ireland by covering it with forests

My week... Gerry Loftus

Gerry Loftus prepares a brew at his home in Lahardane, Co Mayo. Photo: John O'Grady
Gerry Loftus prepares a brew at his home in Lahardane, Co Mayo. Photo: John O'Grady

Ken Whelan

Don't mention forestry, the GLAS scheme or the possibility of Ireland meeting its EU air pollution targets to Gerry Loftus - it is a bit like mentioning the war to the 57-year-old sheep and suckler farmer from Lahardane in Co Mayo, who also works off farm as a financial adviser with Acorn Insurance in Galway.

He says the GLAS scheme is a "regulatory joke", while he is just scathing about the Government's forestry policy.

He believes our politicians "must be living in a bubble" if they think covering the west of Ireland with forests is going to solve the emissions problem posed by our dairy and beef expansion targets.

"The Government have their eyes closed on what is happening in forestry. They are changing land designations throughout the west and are devastating rural life in the region," says Gerry. "They are even protecting the pine martens, who are complete vermin and who are destroying the corncrake, snipe and woodcock - and any bird who lays an egg on the land."

He also claims that the various forestry schemes are tailor-made for investment from the overseas investment funds as well as big Irish dairy interests who are using their plantations in the west as a hedge against the levies which could be imposed by the EU when we fail to meet our air pollution targets.

"I can understand any farmer who is running up in years taking the option of forestry as an income before he draws his pension, but not the way the forestry schemes are working at the moment in favour of the people who are actually causing the (emissions) problem," he says.

Ireland aims to increase the level of forestry cover from 11pc of the country's total area to 18pc
Ireland aims to increase the level of forestry cover from 11pc of the country's total area to 18pc

Gerry has been farming the home farm - 57 acres of lowland and 33 acres of commonage on Nephin Mór - since he took over the home place from his father in the 1990s. However, he reckons he is just making the same amount of money from the farm as he did when he started out.

"But back then it was about 25,000 in punts not euro and the costs were less," he says.

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He runs a flock of 80 lowlands sheep, 150 hill sheep and over 20 sucklers with all the livestock sold through local Mayo marts.

He does not intend to be farming until he is "in his eighties" and plans to pass the farm, which has been in the Loftus family for generations, "over to one of the nephews and give him a chance to start farming in his late twenties or early thirties".

He is not optimistic about the Government meeting all the agri challenges it faces, such as EU environmental fines or the fallout from Brexit.

"No matter what way you look at it, we are tied at the hip with Britain. Millions in our agricultural product is sold there every week, and if it is going to Europe, it has to go through the Channel Tunnel. I hope the Government is up to this negotiation," he says.

Gerry's main off-farm interest is farm activism - he is the Mayo chairman of the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association.

He is also a fan of the Mayo football team and like all his county folk, remains on ­bended knee praying for that elusive All-Ireland. You can feel the pain in his voice when he thinks about last year. "How did we let Dublin score those two goals," he sighs.


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