Abarometer of landowner interest in forestry was the recent turnout of 1,300 people at nationwide information meetings organised by Teagasc in association with the Forest Service.
Ireland’s new, six-year Forestry Programme, approved by the Government last December, consists of 11 separate measures and spending of €262m — with a further €220m in future commitments, from 2020, mostly in relation to premium payments.
Minister of State, Tom Hayes, said government approval of the programme was a milestone in the development of the sector and a vote of confidence in an industry that contributed €2.3bn to GDP in 2012.
“The new programme strikes a balance between meeting the needs of a growing, export-led processing sector and the need to maximise the environmental and social benefits that can be delivered by forestry and be enjoyed by society,” Mr Hayes said.
The new premiums are 20% higher than those in the previous programme, when compared year on year. Establishment grants have increased by 5%.
An important feature of the new programme is the €7m of funding to protect and enhance Irish native woodlands. Almost 2,000 hectares of these forests will be eligible for support.
The objective of the programme is to support the planting of over 43,000 hectares of new forests, and to support the construction of up to 690km of new forest roads.
New forests are also expected to make an important contribution towards meeting climate-emission targets, through carbon sequestration and fossil-fuel replacement.
Forests now account for 11% of the land area of the country and play an increasingly important economic, environmental and social role.
The forestry industry makes a significant, increasing contribution to the Irish economy and the industry employs 12,000 people directly.
Private owners account for 47% of forest cover in Ireland.
The majority of it is farm forestry, with the large majority of new plantations, in the past five years, undertaken by farmers.
However, the Irish Farmers’ Association warned last year that it is very concerned that the proposals outlined in the new programme will undermine the sector, particularly the small farmers who are considering forestry as a land-use option.
The forestry programme was initially set up to encourage farmers to permanently change their land-use and to view forestry as a viable economic alternative to other farming enterprises.
For continued participation of farmers and the growth of farm forestry, it is critical that forestry policy reflects the sector’s characteristics and interests.
The most recent proposals indicate that the Government’s policy has shifted to encourage the investor rather than the farmer, it warned.
Nuala Ni Fhlatharta, head of the Forestry Development Department, with Teagasc, said the recent meetings proved to be very successful.
The aim was to provide information to landowners on the significant opportunities provided by the new grants and premium payment scheme.
“With 15 annual premium payments of over €510 per hectare, for conifers, and approximately €600 per hectare for broadleaves, I would strongly recommend that landowners consider the potential that this offers.
“In addition to the annual premium, it will be possible for most farmers to hold onto their basic payments. In most cases, all the costs associated with the establishment of the crop in the early years are covered by an afforestation grant,” she said.
Frances McHugh, Teagasc’s forestry adviser in the South East, said many of the forest owners who planted in the past decades are now reaping the benefits with income from timber sales.
In addition to the returns from thinning and clear-felling, a forest enterprise on a farm is an ideal way for landowners to grow their own fuel and timber supply for the future.
New and expanding markets, including wood energy, have provided new opportunities for local sales. A well-planned forest can also benefit the countryside visually and can provide recreational opportunities on the farm.
Last year, the IFA launched a new service, Forest Assessor, in association with Treemetrics, which utilises the most up-to-date technology to accurately predict the quantities of log products that each tree can produce, and their potential value.
Minister Hayes said there would be an estimated 820,000 hectares of forestry in Ireland by 2020, over 50% of which will be privately owned.
One of the ongoing challenges faced by the forestry sector, in the coming years, will be to get the timber from privately owned forests onto the market.
“A service such as Forest Assessor, that helps owners to realise the full potential of their forestry when bringing their timber to market, is to be welcomed by all involved in the forestry industry,” he said.
Teagasc, in conjunction with Coillte and the Forest Service, is, meanwhile, organising two important demonstrations on reforestation at Rising Sun Guesthouse, Mullinavat, Co Kilkenny (February 26) and at the Community Centre, Feakle, Co Clare, (March 4).
These will provide guidance to those whose plantations are now coming up for re-establishment. They are also timely, as many owners had to clearfell, following the frequent and often ferocious 2014 storms, which caused extensive damage to private and State forests.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved