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Forestry 'needed to offset agri emissions'


Coillte CEO Fergal Leamy

Coillte CEO Fergal Leamy

Coillte CEO Fergal Leamy

A failure to increase forestry levels will constrain growth in the dairy and beef sectors, by making environmental emissions targets impossible to reach, the head of Coillte has warned.

The chief executive of the State-owned commercial forestry business said expansion in major agricultural sectors, including dairy and beef, will produce increased carbon emissions that will only be permitted if they are offset through forestry.

Farmers' traditional view in Ireland of forestry as a marginal business needed to change to include timber as a yield-generating portfolio asset, Coillte CEO Fergal Leamy said.

Coillte is the country's biggest landowner, and has developed and managed wind farms and leisure amenities as well as forestry. It also operates partnerships with individual landowners to manage commercial forestry plantations.

Coillte has faced recent criticism from the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) for its management of partnership contracts with farmers, some of which date back decades.

Mr Leamy said communication with some landowners should have been better, but that as contracts matures the taxpayer-owned company is now looking to recoup its investment.

"We've paid out €20m in these partnerships, it is now time to get out money back," he noted. The 636 partnership deals agreed with farmers between 1983 and 2009 had been overwhelmingly successful, he said, but accepted some relationships had become fraught.

New partnerships - dubbed Coillte Premium Partnership - are now standardised, he said.

Mr Leamy said Coillte is currently in talks to sign up partners to invest in wind generation developments, with a pipeline of 25 sites.

An auction process to raise €125m from a sale of existing wind farms, but not the land they are built on, will close by the end of the summer, he said.

The assets have attracted a long-list of domestic and international bidders including pension funds and power operators, he said.

Around €25m to €30m of the proceeds will be kept to help fund new wind farms, in partnership with outside investors and lenders, he said.

Coillte is also in talks with commercial operators to develop so-called 'glamping' and adventure activities centres under agreements on State forestry, but will not sell the land, he said.

That may include leasing more forestry to the new Centre Parcs resort in Co Longford, built on land sold by Coillte.

The company's full-year results for 2017 show it doubled operating cash to €30m after record revenues of nearly €300m.

Coillte paid the Government an €8m dividend.

Irish Independent