Trying to boost forestry is a hard sell beyond the Garden County
Downing on politics
Published 22/06/2016 | 02:30
Andrew Doyle believes there is still a conflict between tree growing and food production in Ireland. Farmers incline towards producing beef, dairy or sheep meat - growing trees risks meaning one less house in the community and more land out of production.
The Wicklow TD and junior agriculture minister now responsible for forestry promotion says his own experience was quite the opposite growing up on the family farm near Roundwood, close to Glendalough, in one of Ireland's most beautiful areas.
"Any window I look out at home, I'm looking at plantations. I'm minutes away from woods where I go mountain biking with my brothers," he says.
"Where I grew up, forestry was an important part of the rural economy. People with small holdings or no land at all often got work in forestry. It gave them regular income, firewood from windfalls and flexibility to engage in other work."
Wicklow is one of Ireland's few counties which comes near the aspirational but rather fictional target of 18pc of land in forestry. The theory is that Ireland, currently with the EU's lowest ratio of forestry at 11.7pc, would go to 18pc by 2046.
That is not going to happen as it would require a yearly planting of 16,000 hectares. The new Programme for Government has a target of 8,300 hectares per year - and the current planting level is in or about 6,300 hectares.
Ever the pragmatist, Andrew Doyle believes he will be doing well if he can push up by about one third and reach the programme target. The issue is inextricably linked to the vexed topic of climate change and sits alongside ambitious plans to expand Ireland's dairy and beef sector.
The minister is a "true believer" in forestry and has one son working in the sector and another training in it at UCD. He has also recently taken the plunge on his own holding of 190 acres.