Premier Woodlands’ Managing Director John Hetherington has welcomed the re-opening of the Forestry Challenge Scheme, claiming that the measure will provide a degree of certainty for the private woodland sector during the 2014/15 planting season.
“It is a welcome development which will encourage farmers to consider planting out five hectare plus blocks of land,” he added.
“Successful applicants will receive up to 70% of eligible costs of delivery of their project over the first five years. Farmers converting land from agriculture will be eligible to apply for the annual Farm Woodland Premium Scheme.
“They will also be able to retain their single farm payment on the area planted put, provided DARD is officially notified of the land use change.”
The Premier Woodlands’ representative went on to confirm that successful applicants for the scheme must demonstrate proof that all relevant payments had been made to contractors, before grant can be drawn down.
“This will include the submission of copies of relevant bank statements showing monies going out and monies being received plus a copy of the cheque(s). An inability to meet these terms will lead to a delay in the payment of Challenge Fund monies,” he further explained.
Looking further ahead, John Hetherington believes that Farm Minister Michelle O’Neill must ensure that the new Rural Development Programme is used to deliver a much needed boost for Northern Ireland’s private forestry sector.
“The scope now exists to make this happen within the broad outline of the programme that has been put in place,” he stressed.
“But we need to see the detail of the schemes that will be implemented over the next five years.
In addition Forest Service must take a more proactive role in encouraging farmers and other land owners to establish woodlands on their properties,” this historically has not been particularly effective.
John Hetherington concluded: “The new Rural Development Programme has the potential to significantly boost the private forestry sector in Northern Ireland. But it’s up to Minister O’Neill, Forest Service and the other stakeholder groups to come up with the right development strategy for the sector.”