IFA president Tim Cullinan said the announcement by Minister Pippa Hackett that the EU has approved an extension of the forestry programme for 2021 will have no real impact unless the licencing backlog is addressed.

“We have a minister announcing grants to encourage forestry, while at the same time the Department is making it unworkable for people that want to plant. It’s a farce,” he said.

Currently, there are nearly 5,000 licences awaiting approval. Farmers with forestry cannot thin or harvest their timber, and new entrants cannot get a licence to plant.

“Those who went into forestry with the full encouragement of the Government are being blocked from harvesting their crop.

“Yet the Government keeps issuing press releases telling us how important it is to increase the amount of forestry in the country,” he said.

“The recent changes around appeals, publishing output figures and setting up committees is all bluster. Only 30% of the monthly target of felling licences were issued in December.

“The Department’s plan to address the felling licence backlog is not working. It is more accurately cataloguing their failure to resolve the issue,” he said.

IFA sheep chair Sean Dennehy has welcomed the move by the Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue to change the reference year for sheep farmers in the rolled over Sheep Welfare Scheme.

He said this is a vital scheme and it is crucial that it reflects the level of activity on farms by recognising progressive sheep farmers who have built their numbers since the original reference period of 2014/2015.

“IFA made a strong case to the minister and the Department to have the reference period updated and the acceptance of this case by the minister is a strong signal of support for the sheep sector and is very important in the context of generational renewal in sheep farming,” he said.

The IFA chair said updating the reference period is an important first step in aligning the scheme more closely with the levels of activity on sheep farms and building towards a €30 per ewe scheme in the next CAP, which will reflect in real time the number that sheep farmers have.

Dennehy reminded new entrants to have their applications submitted by Monday, 1 February.