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Forestry payments must rise by €200/ha/year to attract farmers

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Farmers currently get between €500-€650/ha/year for 15 years for planting. Photo: Roger Jones

Farmers currently get between €500-€650/ha/year for 15 years for planting. Photo: Roger Jones

Farmers currently get between €500-€650/ha/year for 15 years for planting. Photo: Roger Jones

Payments under the Department of Agriculture’s next forestry scheme “must increase by €200/ha/year” to entice farmers back into planting, Forest Industries Ireland (FII) has warned.

FII Director Mark McAuley says farmer planting applications “have reduced to a trickle” with “just a dozen” now submitted on a monthly basis as the sector has “almost completely ground to a halt”.

It follows mixed reactions to the Department’s latest report into the regulatory framework that underpins forestry in Ireland. Speaking after a meeting with Forestry Minister Pippa Hackett, Mr McAuley said greater incentives will be vital to the 2023 forestry programme expected to be announced at the National Ploughing Championships.

“For most farmers, forestry is an overwhelmingly economic decision — money talks, so that was my main conversation with the minister,” said Mr McAuley.

“Currently, you get anywhere from between €500-€650/ha/year for 15 years, so if you plant 10ha, you’d be getting between €5,000-€6,500 per annum. We’d like to see that increase to between €7,000-€8,500 per annum for 15 years — on 10ha, that would add up to a €30,000 increase in your payments over the 15 years, which is a substantial increase.

“It’s not only money, you have to fix the regulatory system to make sure the whole thing works, then inject more incentives — a combination of those two things will go a long way to turning around the planting numbers.”

FII broadly welcomed the recent ‘Project Woodland: Regulatory Review Report’ — a document that sets out actions to reduce the application backlog in the Forestry Service.

Its proposals include the introduction of “reasonable time limits for decisions”, some reduced licence requirements for “low-risk thinnings”, and advice “not to remove the 15km screening radius from the system”.

“On the whole, it’s quite conservative in its approach to the law, it’s quite protective of the environment,” said Mr McAuley.

“There is scope to look at different forestry activities, be it different sizes of planting, felling, scale of thinning and, say, maybe some of these activities are lower risk than others and it may be possible to take a different regulatory approach without a full-scale licence.

“If we could look at thinning in a more streamlined way, it would take a lot of work off the Department, giving them capacity to deal with afforestation and clear-fell applications.” However, the Social, Economic and Environmental Forestry Association (Seefa) and IFA slammed the review.

Seefa chairman Teige Ryan said: “It basically means more of the same.

“The current dysfunctional system, designed by the Department, will remain in place and unable to deliver enough licences for the sector to achieve climate action afforestation targets or mobilise the volumes of timber coming to harvest.

“How are this Department ever going to deliver the 20,000ha of afforestation, which are required to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, when they are clearly unable to administer even 2,000ha now.

“The review presented an opportunity to undo some of the arbitrary decisions made by the Department which have crippled our industry, but the political will is just not strong enough to force change on the back of the review’s findings.”

He called on the Department to integrate afforestation into the next CAP.

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IFA forestry chair Jason Fleming said the recommendations are unlikely to restore farmer confidence in forestry.

“I am particularly disappointed with the recommendations regarding maintaining the licence requirement for thinning operations, despite multiple examples being provided that this is not the case in other European countries,” he said.


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