Farmers in Leitrim who are protesting about the scale of forestry planting have said the county does not want to be turned into a “carbon sink”.
They claim local farmers cannot compete with outside buyers acquiring land for forestry and availing of tax incentives.
Minister of State Andrew Doyle visited the county on Tuesday to meet farmers who say they are being forced to compete for land with foreign and Irish investors who were getting favourable treatment from the banks.
Mr Doyle, who said he accepted the issue was emotive, gave an undertaking that new regulations would be introduced before the next planting season in October. These would require site notices to be erected so local people would know in advance that land was earmarked for forestry.
The IFA has also urged that notices be placed in local newspapers to give stakeholders an opportunity to object. It also wants increased incentives for farmers by boosting the suckler cow scheme and improving the GLAS scheme.
The chairman of Leitrim IFA, James Gallagher, told the Minister the county did not want to be “a carbon sink for the aristocrats of Europe or indeed for the rest of Ireland”.
Mr Gallagher said the scale of planting had been a contentious issue in Leitrim for 30 years and was was causing “displacement” . Young farmers could not compete with the prices being paid by foreign investors who were buying up land to avail of tax free incentives for forestry,he added.
At a meeting with the Minister attended by 40 farmers in Drumshanbo, IFA regional development officer Adrian Leddy said parishes in Leitrim were being “wiped out” by blanket afforestation. He urged the Minister to get the forestry service to survey parishes in Leitrim to determine the scale of the problem.
“It is not a nice thing to see farmer against fellow farmer, and neighbour against neighbour,” said Mr Leddy.
He said it was in the Minister’s hands to take the heat out of the issue as “ tempers can run high and in a number of instances it was close enough to boiling point”.
Wicklow-based Mr Doyle said he himself was a farmer who had planted land, and he stressed that getting a system in place which would suit all areas of the country was tricky.
Several speakers told the Minister of cases where farmers had been refused credit by banks who were willing to finance plantations.
Mr Leddy said the IFA had no problem with farmers who wanted to plant part of their land but under the current Rural Development Programme investors were allowed to avail of the same tax-free incentives as farmers. “You have made a big mistake there Minister,” he added.
Calling for a change in the grant structure Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny said he had been told by local auctioneers that investors from Germany and Hong Kong were “queuing up to buy land” in Leitrim to plant it and farmers were unable to compete with this.