Farm Ireland

Monday 23 April 2018

Exploiting value of forestry vital for Government

Joe Barry

Joe Barry

With the election thankfully behind us, we can again return to concentrating on how best to survive during the coming decade.

Despite the many idiotic promises we had to listen to during the recent campaign, the next 10 years are going to be really tough -- and let no one think otherwise. But there is little point in continuing with the blame game, for we cannot revisit the past. Far better to now work with the positives and on how we can all co-operate to keep our jobs and businesses, and make our island a green and prosperous place once more.

I use the term 'green' to help illustrate how we should increase our area under forestry without delay. We hear a lot about the green shoots of recovery, and planting more trees with the right species in the right places is a sure way of creating secure rural jobs and establishing forestry-related businesses.

We have a fantastic asset in our land and climate, so let's use it to its full advantage. Trees grow faster here than in any other European country and timber is in short supply. The sawlog we are currently importing from Latvia and Scotland could easily be produced here, as could the wood fuel we import from all over the globe.

To quote from the Fine Gael policy document, Ireland's natural resource in woodlands is not being developed to its full potential.

"Despite ideal growing conditions, biomass production in Ireland remains low with only 9pc of land under forestry. The National Planting Target is 17pc of the land area, however, spending cuts have reduced the planting rate to 7,000ha per annum, rendering this target unobtainable," the document says.

"Forestry is a sector that is recognised as being important for a number of reasons; raw material for the wood sector, fuel for heat, biomass plants, carbon sequestration, and has the potential to act as a significant contribution to family farm incomes."

Fine Gael's plan to merge Bord na Mona and Coillte into a new company called Bioenergy and Forestry Ireland (BFI) and to expand Ireland's position in biomass, is an interesting one. Under the proposed plan, BFI will invest €250m per annum over four years in the sector to hopefully become a global leader in the commercialisation of bio-energy technologies.

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BFI has claimed that thousands of jobs could be created through an ambitious afforestation target of almost 15,000ha per annum, but one has to question the viability of planting cut-away bog. It has been tried before with limited success.

COFORD forecasts a doubling of forest output in the next decade due to increased production by the private sector.

It is therefore vitally important that taxpayers' money is not used to prop up inefficiencies in semi-State companies and fund their activities in a manner that would be in direct competition with farm forestry and undermine the efforts of farmers to further increase output. There must be a level playing field with equal opportunity for all, from the smallest farms to the huge plantations currently in State ownership.


I searched the Labour Party policy document for mention of forestry and only found one small item relating to carbon sequestration. This is worrying, especially as I have always seen Labour as the party that will support the demands of the public and private sector trade unions, regardless of their merits. Labour appears to have a strong urban bias and an apparent disregard for the needs and potential of agriculture.

I do hope I am wrong but we can only hope that Labour's historic support for high wages and overmanning in the public sector will be tempered by the reality of our economic situation and the need to now support those sectors that produce real jobs and exports and create lasting wealth.

Prosperity will return when we stop whingeing, roll up our sleeves and make full use of our natural assets. Forestry makes an ideal additional farm enterprise, especially on land that might be marginal for other activities. Forestry and farming are proven to be mutually beneficial and, when properly planned and managed, can greatly increase farm income.

Fine Gael is now in the driving seat and it is up to the party to stand by its promises and help us plant the trees that will create employment, fuel our mills and heating systems and bring lasting wealth and stability to the rural economy.

Indo Farming