UK governments are cautioned against encouraging the creation of forests on productive agricultural land, or the risk of losing such land for future food production.
In Scotland, prime arable and livestock land is bought by foreign investors supported by tax incentives.
Andrew Connon, of NFU Scotland (NFUS), told a Countryside COP webinar that he frequently receives phone calls from desperate farmers and small-scale farmers about the sale of land for forestry, including the recent acquisition of a 400 hectare block of arable land in Aberdeenshire by a Dutch investor. .
In Fife, Mr. Connon had visited three forestry farms, one of which currently grows potatoes.
“Land agents are now reaching out to farmers to sell land not on the open market, but to a long list of investors seeking to plant trees backed by foreign investment due to the perceived massive returns from carbon trading.” , did he declare.
“Entire estates are sold for planting, which limits opportunities for new and young sharecroppers. “
While all UK governments have ambitious tree-planting targets, creating forested areas on productive farmland is a mistake, insisted Lennart Nilson, a farmer and forester from Sweden, Europe’s most forested country.
“Once the land is lost for planting, it is lost for agriculture forever,” he said.
A holistic approach to planting, supported by city investors, was not the answer, said Nilson, who advocated an integrated approach in which the forest improves existing farming practices.
He believed that farmers should embrace these programs, pointing out that the trees were Sweden’s “green gold”, used to make products such as pulp and which provide good income for farming businesses.
Mr Nilson, member of the national board of the Swedish Farmers’ Federation, LRF, said governments should encourage market development for timber harvested in planting programs, not just provide subsidies for planting trees. .
“Investments are needed in infrastructure, in sawmill development and in the bioenergy sector,” he said.
In Wales, the government has a tree planting target of 43,000 ha by 2030, but until March 2020 only 80 ha have been planted, mostly on public land.
David Brown, vice chairman of the Ulster Farmers ‘Union, said farmers’ resistance was likely motivated by a concern to cede use of these lands, not for a generation, but for generations to come.
Governments are urged to consider regulations to protect farmers from pressure on land for tree planting.
Mr Connon also called for a solid impact assessment on what planting on individual estates will mean for communities, food production and agricultural opportunities.