'˜DAERA must re-think scheme'

DAERA will have to totally re-think the tree planting criteria laid down within the new Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS).

Tuesday, 7th November 2017, 6:38 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 1:24 pm
John Hetherington
John Hetherington

Specifically, the requirement to have claims included as part of the Single Application Form (SAF) will not work.

To date almost 50% of the landowners who had previously been approved for the support measure, indicate they are not now to go ahead with the envisaged planting work.

This is because they would be waiting for more than a year to receive the grant monies to which they are entitled. For claims submitted in May 2018, the planting work must have been carried out before the 15th May 2018. However, it could well be into 2019 before they receive the grant money that is due to them as part of their single farm payment.

Under the old Countryside Management Scheme (CMS), landowners simply had to tick a box in the SAF form, confirming they intend to make a claim.

After that a separate claim process was entered into. There was also greater flexibility in the way CMS was managed. This included the actual grant payment procedures.

The new requirement to link the EFS with the SAF process puts too much strain on farmers’ cash flows. And, as a consequence, the uptake for the new planting scheme will be considerably lower than it could have been.

We are already well behind the tree planting targets agreed for Northern Ireland by the former Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill. And this latest scheme’s extended duration before payment will only serve to widen the gap between the target set and the actual tree planting levels obtained.

But it’s not all bad news. There has been an encouraging level of applications for the current round of Forestry Expansion Scheme (FES) funding. Forest Service has confirmed that it will undertake all site inspections during November. This paves the way for the successful applications to be confirmed in December.

Let’s just hope that Forest Service inspectors give a fair wind to as many of the FES applications as possible.

But the drawback to all of this is the reality that ground preparation work cannot get underway until next January, at the very earliest.

This, in turn shortens the FES tree planting season considerably.

Surely it would be better for all parties concerned to have the FES application period extending from June to August and not the July to September schedule that is in place at the minute.

Under such arrangements, notifications could be forthcoming from Forest Service in October.

This would allow planting to get underway in November, a time of the year when forestry companies, like Premier Woodlands, can begin tree planting, if ground preparation work has been undertaken.

For further information, contact Premier Woodlands on (028) 7963 4236.