The drive to plant more trees in Scotland is hampering the chances for new entrant farmers, warns a duo of Aberdeenshire producers.
NFU Scotland vice-president Andrew Connon, who farms near Ellon, said he is being inundated with calls from farmers across Scotland expressing concern about the amount of farmland being converted into land for forestry.
“I’m getting phone calls, almost on a daily basis at the moment, with reports of more land going down to trees,” said Mr Connon.
“And that’s lowland and upland and hill farms. I’m also getting phone calls from secure tenants where the estates are looking to take back some land for planting trees.
“Some people are already losing short-term leases to tree planting, and land that has been sold has gone down to trees.”
He said the government’s drive to plant more trees, as a means of meeting its ambitious climate change targets, were artificially inflating prices for farmland and making landlords consider taking land back in-hand for planting trees, rather than letting it out to farmers.
Both factors were making it difficult for new entrants and youngsters to get a start in farming, warned Mr Connon.
His concerns were backed by Ellon arable farmer Allan Smith, who farms at Cairnadailly.
He said: “It’s already impossible for young folk to get a start, and it’s getting harder whether you are in the game or trying to get into the game.
“How on earth can a young farmer get a start when you look at the price of stock and machinery, and compare it to the grants for trees? It’s all wrong.”
Losing critical mass
Both Mr Smith and Mr Connon also warned about the other consequences of farmland coming out of food production and being used for forestry instead.
Mr Connon said: “The Government needs to rethink its forestry policy because it’s ill-advised and ill-judged.
“The amount of ewes and cows going off the uplands because of the [tree planting] policy means we are starting to lose critical mass, and then we will loss processing capacity.”
Mr Smith said an increase in forestry areas would also cause problems for nearby farmland due to an increase in birds causing damage to crops.
He said: “One of my farms is only half a mile away from 1,000 acres of trees and it’s getting hard to farm that land with the amount of crows and pigeons – they are everywhere.
“I’m seriously worried about the amount of trees that are going in around us.”