IFA farm forestry chair Vincent Nally told the Future Forests workshop that the forestry regulatory framework, including the replanting obligation and licensing system, was the biggest barrier to forestry and is stifling forestry development at farm level.

“It is time the Government started to listen to farmers, reformed the system and created a regulatory framework that supports planting and management at farm level,” he said.

While German forest owners had a large amount of freedom, they were not required to apply for a permit or submit a management

IFA has surveyed other private forest owner organisations across the EU and discovered that Ireland’s felling regulatory framework is the most rigorous of any country surveyed.

“None of the countries required private forest owners to apply for a felling licence. Most had a permit system that guaranteed a felling permit within a set time frame. Others, such as France, required forest owners to submit a sustainable management plan that reflected the size of the forest.

“While German forest owners had a large amount of freedom, they were not required to apply for a permit or submit a management. However, they are legally obliged to manage forests sustainably.”

It is evident that private forest owners elsewhere in Europe have a proportionate regulatory burden

He added that private forest owners were not required to submit a Natura Impact Statement.

In the main, appropriate assessment was only required when the forest was located in a Natura site, in an area of high conservation value, or the forest authority was responsible for the assessment.

“It is evident that private forest owners elsewhere in Europe have a proportionate regulatory burden. The requirements reflect the size of the forest and the type of operation, and is more about supporting private forest owners to manage their forests,” he said.

Nally concluded that if the Government is serious about planting and meeting the Climate Action targets, then all suitable land must be eligible for the scheme.

The replanting obligation should be removed and a complete reform of the licensing system undertaken, he said.

IFA president Tim Cullinan said the full takeover of Slaney Meats and ICM by ABP is a further erosion of competition in the processing sector.

“This consolidation of the buying power for livestock in the hands of a few has to be addressed by the Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue and the Consumer Protection and Competition Commission (CPCC),” he said.

It comes five years after a joint venture in which ABP took a 50% share in the businesses. Cullinan said this latest move renews the urgency for the minister to implement the primary legislation to provide the office of the Food Regulator with the power to investigate and enforce at all levels throughout the supply chain.

The CCPC has continually failed farmers in this area

He said returns to livestock farmers must be maximised from the marketplace. In order to achieve this, it’s critical there is full transparency on margins.

“The CCPC has continually failed farmers in this area. The figures speak for themselves – breakeven prices for beef are €4.50/kg, but this is rarely achieved due to a combination of factors, including lack of competition in the processing sector, high dependence on large supermarket chains and the powers they have been allowed establish, and the importation to our key markets of sub-standard produce,” he said.

The IFA president said the Beef Market Taskforce has been very frustrating, particularly the failure of Grant Thornton to identify margins along the food chain.

In 2016, an independent report commissioned by the IFA on the joint venture raised serious competition issues for farmers.

The main conclusion of the report was that the primary procurement market for farmers selling cattle in Ireland to meat factories is characterised by weak competition, and the deal is likely to weaken competition even further, through a “substantial lessening of competition”.

“It was very clear on the competition concerns in the beef sector, the income pressures that exist for livestock producers and the impact that any weakening of competition would have on their livelihoods.”

The Irish beef processing industry is much more concentrated than its English counterpart (which is about the same size as the Irish cattle procurement market), with large processors (slaughtering more than 50,000 head of cattle) accounting for 85% of the kill compared to 50% in England.

In contrast, small- and medium-sized processors account for 43.3% of the kill in England and only 8.9% in Ireland.

On sheepmeat, the report pointed out that Slaney/ICM is the largest processor of sheep/lamb meat in the State, with around 40% of the kill. While ABP does not process sheep/lamb meat in Ireland, it is active in this area in Northern Ireland and England.