We need assurance that afforestation scheme won't alter
I read recently where our Minister of State for Forestry, Shane McEntee, had launched this year's autumn programme for planting trees.
While one must praise his efforts and share a sense of relief that we still have a tree planting programme, I felt that the real headline should have read: "What has happened to our afforestation scheme?"
I have had the pleasure of meeting Mr McEntee several times in the past few months and, like most timber growers, I am greatly impressed by his undoubted commitment to forestry and rapidly increasing knowledge of the finer details of his brief.
However, I cannot help but cast my mind back to the mid-1990s when we were planting more than 20,000ha a year, instead of the miserly 1,500ha announced in the recent press release.
Many of the woods that were established in the 1990s are now being thinned and the income and general economic activity being generated as a result is surely evidence of the benefits forestry brings to rural areas and woodland owners.
Not only are the people who planted all those years ago still in receipt of their premium income, but the sawmilling and wood-fuel industries are providing a ready market for thinnings with prices far higher than anticipated.
Farmers who planted must now be well pleased with their reward; especially given their courage in investing in what was then a relatively unknown enterprise.
The many groups lobbying for forestry are, however, facing an uphill struggle when fighting for funding in the current economic climate. As ever, the civil servants in the Department of Finance will make the final decisions, but one often wonders whether the national good or political expediency finally decide the allocations of funding.