The Forestry Programme (2023-2027) has yet to be ratified by the European Commission for State Aid approval.

Forestry sources who discussed its progress with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine believe it is currently with the EU’s DG Environment, although Department officials could not provide them with an expected date of approval.

In the meantime, Department officials say that existing approved afforestation licences can go ahead under a new interim or de minimis Afforestation Scheme, with conditions and increased grants, and premium rates as published in the new forestry programme.

New applications cannot be considered under the de minimis rules and will need to wait until EU ratification.

Sources say the Department was uncertain when asked about the status of those who plant under de minimis rules should the Commission change any of the conditions, grants or premium payments in the new programme.

Most forestry companies contacted said they will proceed to plant under these rules which date from 1 January.

“We need to ensure that the new programme is a success and that there is maximum take up,” one spokesperson for a forestry company said.

“We would have preferred more certainty, especially as it is two years since the last programme ended,” he added.

“This late submission by the Department to the Commission is simply not good enough and once again illustrates the need for a forestry development agency in representing the interests of private forestry, including farmers with forests or [those] planning to plant some of their land.”

When asked about the achievement of an 8,000ha planting programme as envisaged in the current Climate Action Plan, he said he couldn’t see the programme exceeding 2,500ha.

“Because of the Department’s delay, the spring planting programme will be low,” he said.

“As the Department is not accepting new afforestation applications, the bulk of planting won’t take place until next autumn and winter.”

Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal when questioned on Tuesday whether the new upwardly revised grant aid and premiums would be available for planting currently taking place, the Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue categorically confirmed that yes, it would receive the new rates for premiums and grant aid under the interim arrangement.