Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 March 2018

Threat of cuts puts planting plans on hold

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

New forestry plantings are on hold as farmers wait anxiously to find out whether forestry funding will be cut in the forthcoming Budget.

Applications for afforestation grants are down 50pc to date this year compared to the same period 12 months ago as concern mounts about the level of funding that will be available next year.

Talks between Shane McEntee, the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture with responsibility for forestry, and the IFA forestry committee on Thursday yielded little in the way of progress.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr McEntee said that he could give no indication or commitment about the outcome of the Government's upcoming Budget talks.

"This issue is, like every other item in the Department's budget, subject to the outcome of the Comprehensive Review of Expenditure currently being undertaken by every Department," he said.

"I am totally aware of the economic importance of the sector and I am committed to achieving the highest possible level of funding for forestry, to ensure a sustainable and viable industry," he added.

IFA farm forestry chairman Pat Hennessy said farmers needed reassurances that forestry funding would be maintained before they could plant new areas of land with trees.

"Protection of the forestry payments is critical to maintaining confidence in the sector and meeting targets set out by the Government by 2020," Mr Hennessy insisted.

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He added that the return on investment in forestry was significantly greater than other areas.

"The €112m annual forestry allocation in the agricultural capital budget returns €1.8bn to the national economy," he said.

He added that employment in the forestry sector, which currently stands at 22,000 people, could double by 2015, according to Teagasc estimates.

"But only if the Government commits to paying €112m annually," Mr Hennessy warned.

Forestry premiums amounting to €72.2m have been paid to farmers so far this year and, despite the downturn in the domestic construction sector, prices for timber remain buoyant due to the success of sawmills in turning quickly to export markets.

The Department of Agriculture has issued felling licences on a record private sector area of more than 9,390ha (more than 23,000ac), which is more than 30pc up on the same period last year.

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