The development of Sweden’s forestry industry has turned trees into the country’s “green gold” – but they’re not planted on productive farmland.
That was the message from leading Swedish farmer Lennart Nilsson, who told a webinar organised by the UK’s farmers’ unions that in his country land managers tend to be both farmers and foresters, and trees mean they can have a good income and long term financial stability.
“Sweden has the largest area of forest of any EU country,” he said.
“Investing in forestry has been stable for a long time, but it’s not fast cash and we don’t have schemes for agroforestry or tree planting. The debate here is more about preservation versus production, both in forestry and farming.”
He was speaking to UK farmers, many of whom are concerned about the growing trend of all types of land, including that currently used to rear stock and grow crops, being bought by private investors to offset carbon emissions.
Mr Nilsson said it was important to develop a market for the timber, and to create incentives for active forest management. He added trees shouldn’t be planted with the sole aim of letting them stand.
“Then there will be no economic benefit for the farmer. That’s important,” he said.
NFU Scotland vice president Andrew Connon told the webinar the Scottish Government’s tree planting targets of 12,000ha per annum, rising to 18,000ha per annum by 2024-25 have resulted in a long line of investors clamouring to buy any type of land.
“I receive new calls every week from despairing farmers and crofters across Scotland telling me of another farm or croft to be planted,” he said.
“The language used by non-farming buyers of carbon negative, carbon capture, carbon economy and carbon trading is creating a dream ticket for land agents.
“A hard rethink of policy is needed to ensure food production, biodiversity and climate change mitigation targets are achieved alongside the planting and management of integrated farm woodlands rather than the blanket purchase and planting currently being encouraged and undertaken by city investors and financial institutions.”
NFU Cymru president, John Davies also called for policy to ensure active farmers get the benefit from tree planting.
He said: “Carbon credits are a kind of wild west out there, values go up and down . Its early in the market, but we as a union need to be involved in that and ensure there’ fairness in that carbon market.”