Thursday, August 31, is the close of application date for a number of key farming schemes in Northern Ireland.

The list comprises Zone 2 of the Soil Nutrient Health Scheme (SNHS), the Forestry Expansion Scheme (FES) and the Small Woodland Grant Scheme.

Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) agriculture spokesperson, Tom Elliott, is encouraging all farmers in the Fermanagh, west Tyrone and west Armagh catchment area to sign-up for Zone 2 of the SNHS.

“This is a very beneficial measure. It will provide detailed soil-related information on every field within a farming business,” the MLA explained.

“So it makes total sense for all farmers to sign up for the new measure; the application deadline is Thursday, August 31.

“I have filled in a number of Zone 2 applications on behalf of constituents. These are quite straightforward forms to complete.”

Elliott said he is also mindful of the fact that failure on the part of farmers to sign-up for the SNHS rules them ineligible for future farm support measures.

“Obviously, this is another key reason for all farmers to sign-up for the new soil scheme,” he said.

Other farming schemes in Northern Ireland

Meanwhile Premier Woodlands managing director, John Hetherington, has confirmed that 2023 is the first year in which FES will be fully supported by UK national funding.

“Up to this point, an element of European Union (EU) support had been available for the scheme,” he said.

“Looking ahead, it seems likely that FES, or a scheme similar to it, will be continued into the future, possibly with ongoing revisions or updates.

“The bottom line is that forestry and woodland development remain long-term investment opportunities for farmers and landowners. And they need certainty, where future planning of this kind is required.”      

Forest Service has confirmed that 50,000ha of new woodland creation will need to be planted out in trees by 2050 as part of a cohesive response to the climate change regulations that are now legally binding in Northern Ireland.

And this new planting target could be increased further by an additional 20,000ha to compensate for forest to bog restoration peatland previously planted out in trees mainly within the Forest Service Estate.

These figures were unveiled at a recent stakeholder meeting, hosted by Forest Service.

Hetherington, who was in attendance commented: “The overarching target is to have 12% of Northern Ireland’s total land area planted in trees by 2050.

“The scale of the actual planting areas is a direct consequence of the binding target that is now legislated for within the Northern Ireland Climate Change Act.

“It’s my understanding that Forest Service will be publishing an action plan, one that clarifies how this future tree-planting strategy will be implemented.”

According to the Premier Woodlands representative, annual tree planting rates of up to 2,500ha will have to be achieved between now and 2050, if the climate change targets are to be met.

“This is almost 10 times the current planting figure,” he added.