The final cost of the Ash Dieback disease outbreak will top €800m, a forestry group has claimed.
Hundreds of farmers and landowners have been left with ash plantations that are near worthless from the impact of the forestry disease.
Colum Walsh, chairman of the Limerick and Tipperary Woodland Owners (LTWO) group, told the Oireachtas agriculture committee last week that there are 20,000 hectares of commercial ash in Ireland which, prior to the disease, had an estimated value of €40,000-45,000/ha upon clearfell.
Since all ash in Ireland has been affected or is vulnerable to the disease, losses in potential revenue of €800m for farmers and landowners are forecast. Blemished "Farmers can't sell the ash as hurley butts as it is blemished; it can't be sold to the hardwood market either.
So much revenue potential has been lost. These farmers who planted were pioneers of forestry, they played no hand or part in bringing the disease into the country yet they are expected to bear the brunt of it," Mr Walsh told the Farming Independent.
Mr Walsh said there has been no outcome from the review of the Reconstitution Ash Dieback Scheme, which was announced in April 2018, and that farmers affected by the disease are in limbo.
He added that farmers should receive compensation in full for loss of earnings due to Ash Dieback disease.
Other options LTWO want explored include allowing affected forest owners to enter into a new scheme for a 15-year premium or allow the forest to be changed into continuous cover, Sitka spruce, agroforestry or any other grant category with 15-year premiums.
Allowing the land to be put back into grassland is another option that the group thinks should be considered. "It has left a bad taste in the mouth of some growers at how this ash was imported and how no compensation scheme has been implemented," said Mr Walsh.
"In areas where good land has been planted, farmers should have the option to put it into grassland as it could be valuable to lease to dairy farmers," said Mr Walsh.
He added that forest owners should be allowed to continue on with an infected plantation and be paid to actively remove infected trees, allowing a possible genetic pool of resistant ash trees to be created for future use in combating Ash Dieback.
Minister Andrew Doyle recently stated that the review was taking longer than it should.
He added that while eradication was initially viewed as the best practice to tackle the disease, when the "scientific outlook changed and it became evident that the disease could not be eradicated, the Reconstitution Scheme was suspended" in order for the review to take place.
"The review has taken the form of extensive consultation and evaluation and initial indications are that it has identified a broader and more responsive range of options to assist owners in managing affected forests. I hope to be in a position to announce the full results of the review shortly."