Last week, Jason Fitzgerald, chairman of the IFDL (Irish Farmers With Designated Land) along with Kenneth Fitzgerald, Treasurer went to Brussels as part of the Irish delegation of representatives of farming organisations to attend and take part in a LULUCF (Land Use, Land Use and Forestry) conference. Mr Fitzgerald gave his view and opinion on the meeting.
Ireland is attempting to increase its forest cover from 10% at present to 30% by 2030 to meet its commitments under the Paris agreement to reduce carbon emissions. In Ireland today afforestation means coniferous plantations which are the most profitable species available, but this is in conflict with some peoples' views of Biodiversity, which has led to the ban on afforestation and devastated the value of Hen Harrier SPA Designated land. Despite a commitment to allow afforestation in 2007 , when these lands were being proposed for designation.
It was irresponsible on behalf of the NPWS (National Parks and Wildlife Services) and the Forestry services not to introduce an alternative process in line with the agreement between Government and Farming Organisations which guaranteed Land devaluation would not accrue.
This agreement was drawn up in 1997 between the Department of Environment, Local Government and Heritage and Farming Organizations to protect farmers rights in the case of devaluation, forestry and Farming incomes. The forestry model that was proposed in Brussel is a lot different to what we are used to but is apparently just as profitable excluding premiums, traps plenty of carbon, but which will not impact on agricultural output, wildlife or rural communities is Agroforestry, where trees are planted alongside conventional crops and grazing land, which may soon become a reality. Agroforestry is a mix of agriculture and trees which can be seen more commonly in the Southern hemisphere, this system was used before artificial fertilizers were widespread.
It increases ground fertility, improves drainage and soaks up a huge amount of carbon dioxide.
As we are going to have to come up with new ideas to deal with carbon emissions, this was just one suggestion but certainly not for everyone but may suit Hen Harrier designated lands if proper forestry schemes are put in place to match existing schemes. In fact, a recent study has found that 35% of Europe's emissions could be offset without affecting farm productivity by adapting agroforestry. During the conference in Brussels EU Commissioner Artur Runge-Metzger hinted that Europe is willing to examine it more closely: "Sustainable forest management is one of the areas closest to heart of commission members."
At present, regulations classify land as either agriculture or forestry. This is just one preconception that will need to change. Another contribution was from scientist, Patrick Worms who described the possibility of incorporating agroforestry into our conventional agricultural practices, by stating that, "along with animal manure agroforestry was the main source of fertility worldwide until the introduction of inorganic fertilizers about a hundred years ago." Although there are possible alternatives to blanket afforestation, it is incumbent upon the EU commission and the related stake holders in Ireland to make this a reality by incorporating forestry schemes that are as financially beneficial as the current ones. Could this be a panacea for farmers in Hen Harrier designated areas? Probably not and it certainly will not be forthcoming soon enough to address the current fiasco but it may be something to work towards in the future.