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Forestry and Direct Payments - availing of positive interactions

Forestry and Direct Payments - availing of positive interactions

Now is the time to focus on your Direct Payments, Tom Houlihan, Teagasc Forestry Specialist, tells us. With the new CAP 2023-2027 in place, the Direct Payments for 2023 includes a number of new schemes which replace previous schemes.

For example, the new Basic Income Support for Sustainability (BISS) scheme replaces the previous Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), but is still paid on payment entitlements and eligible hectares on the farm. This article looks at some Direct Payment issues with regard to forestry and trees on the farm. It also highlights favourable scheme interactions.  

The online BISS application is really important in the farming calendar. Given its significance in terms of the BISS payment and that of a range of other farm schemes, it is very important to give it the timely attention it deserves. This article should be read in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture Food and Marine’s (DAFM’s) Terms and Conditions for BISS and Other 2023 Area Based Schemes.

Forestry and BISS

The good news is that for qualifying applicants, the opportunity to continue to avail of BISS scheme payments in addition to the forestry premium on eligible afforested land in 2023 is one of a number of highly attractive benefits of the farm forest option. In this regard, eligible land which was afforested in any year since 2009 or which will be planted in 2023, can be eligible to draw down the BISS scheme payment in 2023 - provided it satisfies a number of conditions, including the following:

  • The area must have been eligible and given a right to payment under the Basic Payment Scheme.
  • Farmers who wish to benefit from the BISS payment on afforested land must be the person or persons named as the forestry scheme beneficiary or joint beneficiary. This means that you, as the BISS applicant, must be the person or persons eligible for the payment of the forestry premium in the relevant year and have your name included on the forestry contract.
    Note: This requirement may impinge on and must be fully considered in advance in cases where planted land is being transferred, including within families. The DAFM Forestry Division must be notified in advance if there is a change of ownership of a grant-aided plantation during the term of the forestry contract.  
  • Afforested land must continue to meet all requirements of the relevant DAFM scheme under which it was afforested.
  • DAFM examine forestry parcels each year to ensure they meet all the requirements of the relevant scheme. The forestry premium must be paid on each claimed parcel as part of the terms and conditions, in order for BISS section to examine the plots for eligibility.
  • Eligible Forestry parcels that are declared on BISS applications to activate entitlements will also be subject to conditionality requirements.

Complementary Redistributive Income Support for Sustainability (CRISS) Scheme

The CRISS scheme (also referred to as ‘front loading’) is another new scheme in 2023. Its objective is to redistribute funds from larger to smaller and medium-sized farms. The CRISS scheme is independent of payment entitlements in that it is paid per eligible hectare, but requires applicants to have at least one payment entitlement as part of scheme eligibility. Forestry parcels deemed eligible in the 2023 BISS application can also receive payment under the CRISS.

Eco-Scheme and forestry

The Eco-Scheme is a new voluntary annual scheme open for participation to active farmers. To qualify for payment, farmers are required to undertake specific agricultural practices on their farm. Payment under the Eco-Scheme will be an annual payment for all eligible hectares covered by the commitments undertaken. Each farmer will have the opportunity to opt in or out on an annual basis. Agricultural practices chosen may also be changed on a yearly basis at the farmer’s discretion based on their capacity to qualify. Farmers will apply for the Eco-Scheme at the same time as their application for the BISS from 2023 onwards. Entitlements are not required for the Eco-Scheme. A farmer may submit their Eco-Scheme application in conjunction with their BISS application.

The Eco-Scheme has eight agricultural practices (APs, see Fig. 1) to choose from. For example, AP 1 incorporates the provision of Space for Nature. Three of these practices have an enhanced option. A farmer must successfully deliver two APs (or one enhanced option under AP 1, AP 2, or AP 4) to qualify for an Eco-Scheme payment

Figure 1: Agricultural practice option under the Eco-Scheme 
AP1 space for nature, AP2 extensive livestock production, AP3 limiting chemical nitrogen use, AP4 planting native trees and hedgerows, AP5 use of GPS controlled fertiliser spreaders/sprayers, AP6 soil sampling and appropriate liming, AP7 planting of a break crop, AP8 sowing of a multi species sward. Source: DAFM 2023

Agricultural practice option under the Eco Scheme

GAEC 8 and Eco-Scheme Space for Nature

Conditionality sets baseline requirements for farmers in receipt of CAP payments and includes nine standards set out for Good Agriculture and Environmental Condition (GAEC). For example, one of the requirements under GAEC 8 comprises a minimum share of agricultural land devoted to non-productive areas or features of 4%.

Under Agricultural Practice 1, the Eco-Scheme will reward farmers who allocate 7% of their land to features listed as Space for Nature. This will count as one Eco-Scheme practice and is the standard option. Farmers can also choose to devote at least 10% of their land to Space for Nature (non-productive areas and landscape features (where deemed available) and can thereby qualify for their full Eco-Scheme payment.

All forestry lands are exempt from GAEC 8 estimates. Within the parameters of GAEC 8 and Eco-Scheme Space for Nature, the following definitions apply:

  • Forestry comprises areas planted for commercial or other purpose (including currently or previously grant-aided forests)
  • Woodland is a naturally occurring area of land on which many trees grow over time and has not previously been grant aided.

Space for Nature percentage and payment

  • Page 19 of the BISS Terms and Conditions also outlines the features and weighting qualifying under Space for Nature.
  • Woodland (as defined above) qualifies as Space for Nature.
  • On forestry parcels, non-productive features can count towards the Eco-Scheme Space for Nature percentage estimate. Features such as suitable hedges, drains and sub-features (e.g. scrub,) that are present on forestry parcels may be mapped and counted towards this percentage estimate. The forestry crop itself (productive area) does not count towards the Space for Nature percentage.  
  • While suitable non-productive features on ineligible forestry can be included in the Space for Nature percentage estimate, Eco-Scheme payment can only be made on eligible hectares.

Agricultural Practice 4 – Planting native trees and hedgerows

Under AP 4, a minimum of three native trees or 1m of hedgerow must be planted per eligible hectare. This will be termed the standard option. Increasing the planting rate to six native trees or 2m of hedgerow per eligible hectare per year or a combination of three native trees and 1m of hedgerow per hectare per year can qualify as two measures under Eco-Scheme and can qualify for the full Eco Payment. Page 23/24 of the BISS Terms and Conditions outlines the requirements and technical specifications for AP 4. Please note to satisfy the requirement for AP 4 for 2023, trees/hedgerows must be planted between October 01, 2022 and September 30, 2023.

Native trees/hedgerows planted under Agricultural Practice 4 in the Eco-Scheme for the farmers 2023 application will not contribute to a farmers Space for Nature percentage for 2023. They can however contribute to a farmer's Space for Nature percentage for subsequent years if marked on the map by the farmer / FAS advisor from 2024 onwards.

Limits to AP options based on forestry and/or commonage proportion on holdings

When Eco-Scheme applicants are selecting agricultural practices, it is important to consider the proportion of eligible forestry (and commonage) on their holding. For example, the choice of Agricultural Practice is more limited where the eligible forestry and/or commonage area equals or exceeds 50% of the holding. In this scenario, AP options would be restricted to AP 1, AP 4 or AP 8. In addition, farms with 100% forestry, 100% Natura and 100% commonage are not eligible for AP4. Farms with 90% or more of forestry or commonage or a combination of these are not eligible for AP 8. Therefore, when selecting Eco-Scheme AP options on your farm, it is recommended to consult the BISS Terms and Conditions in advance to guide practice selection.

Completing your BISS application

When filling your BISS application, the status of your forestry parcels must be accurately reflected in terms of the Parcel Use declared. Table 1 provides a summary of BISS application parcel use inputs that will vary according to the timing and nature of forest establishment.

Table 1: BISS Application Parcel Use inputs

Timing of Forest Establishment Input on BISS Form (Parcel Use)
Parcels planted before 2009 (Ineligible) “Forestry”(Claimed area as zero)
Eligible parcels (including granted-aided agroforestry) planted between 2009 and 2022 (inclusive) 1) If pre-printed as “Forestry Eligible” on online form, LEAVE AS IS.2) Otherwise enter “Forestry 2022” (irrespective of the planting year since 2009) ensuring the correct and appropriate CLAIMED AREA is included.For 2) above, also input SUPPORTING INFORMATION regarding the forestry parcel in the “Notes” section of the “REVIEW and SUBMIT” screen, and include the following:
  • Forestry parcel number
  • Planting year
  • Eligible and Claimed areas
  • Confirm such parcels meet all BISS requirements for eligible forestry (as appropriate)*
Eligible parcels (including grant-aided agroforestry) planted or in the process of being planted in 2023 before BISS deadline of 29th May  Forestry 2023 
Parcels to be planted in 2023 but not yet started at the date of BPS submissionApplicants who plant forestry in 2023, after BISS submission are not required to amend the parcel use to Forestry. This will be picked up by Direct Payments Section when processing the application Accurate parcel use as of date of BISS form submission No requirement for parcel use amendment upon subsequent planting

Applicants with agroforestry entering the Organic Farming Scheme 2023

Under the Terms and Conditions of the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS) 2023 (Revised 2nd March, 2023), land declared as Agroforestry can qualify for OFS payment, at the drystock rate subjective to meeting eligibility criteria. OFS applicants with land planted under agroforestry prior to 2023 should have a pre-printed parcel use of “Forestry Eligible”. For agroforestry being planted in 2023 under the Forestry Programme 2023-2027, the parcel use should be “Forestry 2023”. In addition, OFS applicants should confirm the agroforestry status of all eligible agroforestry parcels by including the parcel number, planting year, eligible and claimed areas and confirming the parcel is agroforestry, is used for agriculture and meets all requirements under the OFS, as appropriate, within the Notes section in the Review and Submit screen.

Ensure correct areas for all eligible parcels on BISS:

It is essential to check the statement of land and maps and ensure the correct eligible hectare areas and claimed areas are entered in the BISS application for all eligible forestry parcels. For example, if the claimed area is pre-printed as 0 for any eligible forestry parcel, this will need to be changed to the appropriate area to ensure eligibility for that forestry parcel.

When premium payments conclude

Once the period of premia payments under your afforestation measure has concluded, there is further good new in that these parcels can remain eligible for BISS, subject to maintaining your mandatory commitment to that particular Afforestation measure by complying with the provisions set out in the Forestry Act 2014. This includes Agroforestry.


With a range of new schemes included in the BISS application, it is important to give it timely attention to ensure the application accurately reflects the position of all parcels on an applicant’s holding. Further information and support is available through your local Teagasc forestry advisor. A more detailed support document covering forestry issues is available on the forestry section of the Teagasc Website (www.teagasc.ie/forestry > Grants > Interaction of forestry with other farm schemes).