I am very conscious of concerns expressed about planting in Co. Leitrim and I want to reiterate that there are no county or regional specific targets for forestry planting in Ireland. The planting targets under the Forestry Programme 2014-2020 are national targets and aim to establish almost 44,000 hectares of new forests during the lifetime of the programme.
The Forestry Scheme is voluntary for all landowners and it is a matter for them as to whether they wish to choose forestry as a land use option and avail of the grants and premiums available to support them in that enterprise. Afforestation as a land use can work for farmers by supporting existing agricultural activity. For example it is an option for farmers who wish to diversify their income stream or increase profitability while maintaining their agricultural output.
Forestry does not necessarily mean a reduction in agricultural output nor does it mean converting the entire farm to forestry. Instead where land is underutilised, it allows for a more efficient use of land bringing the entire farm closer to its productive potential. Most importantly this approach introduces a stable and additional income into the farm. This new income stream can be used to develop the farm business as part of the overall plan for the farm. It is worth noting that 380 farmers in Leitrim have recognised this by converting parts of their farms to forestry resulting in forestry payments worth over €2.3m from my Department in 2017. In addition, timber sales in the county were valued at €1.2m in 2017 and 565 people are employed in the forestry sector in County Leitrim which is a valuable contribution to the local economy.