Worst slump in decade threatens farm forestry sector

FARM forestry, promoted as a profitable alternative to livestock farming in poor quality land, is set for its worst slowdown in more than a decade.

Farmers who planned to plant forests in the 2002-03 season are now unlikely to achieve their objective. Instead, forestry contractors' machinery lies idle, and millions of young trees in nurseries may have to be destroyed, at a huge financial loss, because of Government cutbacks in forestry funding.

The issuing of approvals for planting was frozen at the end of October as part of the Government cut back on expenditure, putting the brakes on work at farm level.

Book of Estimates allocations for forestry indicated a cut of about one third, compared to plantings carried out in the 2002-02 season, bringing plantings to about half of the annual target a target which has never been achieved.

Carry over of planting approvals from the 2001-02 season, which were issued for last season and were not completed for one reason or another, are now set to account for the major share of planting in the current season, which is likely to fall to between one quarter and one third of national targets.

Pat Lehane, Chairman, IFA National Forestry Committee, said that just as farmers appeared to be gearing to increase the area of land under forestry, there has been a stalling on approvals. It was only last autumn that Minister of State at the Department of the Marine, John Browne, TD had personally written to 30,000 farmers pointing out the advantages of farm forestry, and encouraging them to plant more land. They were also offered free consultations with Teagasc advisors, to assist them in planning the land use change to forestry.

The Irish Forest Industry Chain (IBEC) has warned that substantial job losses will occur as a result of the freeze on approvals for planting, and huge costs, including destruction of young trees due to be planted this year.

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