The forestry sector, while supporting the new forestry programme, continues to reserve judgment until there is full disclosure on conditions attached to all schemes.

"We all hope that the programme with its much increased premiums and new initiatives will breathe new life into the forest sector," said Mark McAuley, Irish Forest Industries.

"The doubling of forestry premiums is very welcome but needs to be accompanied by a streamlined administrative approach that makes the programme more attractive and accessible," he added.

Sean Sheridan and Gerry Dolan of Glennon Brothers discussed market opportunities with forest owners, as well as displaying a wide range of products, from sawn construction timber to fencing stakes. \ Donal Magner

'Major change'

Pat O'Sullivan, technical director of the Society of Irish Foresters, said the schemes as announced are attractive but "the long-term benefits of forests and forest products in carbon sequestration and storage have not been adequately researched in arriving at the major change in species diversification and planting peats.

"The need for a Forestry Development Agency is now essential to provide urgency in achieving an 8,000ha planting programme, especially in addressing timelines between afforestation application and licence approval."

The Irish Timber Growers Association has promoted the establishment of "an independent national forestry body" for some time.

Donal Whelan believes "this body would have responsibility for ongoing monitoring, implementation and reporting on the programme and Ireland's forestry strategy".

Forestry village at Tullamore

Teagasc's Liam Kelly and Grace Jones discuss the new forestry programme with farmer and forest owner Philip Murray at the Tullamore Show 2023. \ Donal Magner

While there was an excellent turnout in the forestry village at last Sunday's Tullamore Show, most of the exhibitors were in sawmilling, forest sales and machinery rather than forest establishment.

"We'd love to support the show but didn't exhibit because there is still insufficient clarity on the afforestation schemes, while the support measures haven't been agreed yet," said a spokesperson for one of the forestry companies.

Although the forestry programme has not been finalised, Liam Kelly, Teagasc adviser and organiser of the forestry village at the Tullamore show, reported strong interest in afforestation.

"The attractive premiums – over 20 years for farmers – are likely to be a major incentive to consider planting," he said.

Strong sawmill presence

John Murray of Murray Timber Group said the programme ignores the carbon sequestration role of productive conifer forests, along with the carbon storage and displacement of timber in construction, as identified in Ireland's Climate Action Plan.

The two major sawmills – Murray Timber Group and Glennon Brothers – had strong teams at the show. Both sawmill representatives questioned the wisdom of a significant reduction in commercial forestry.

"The unsustainable target of 50% broadleaves coupled with the banning of forests on peats with a depth of over 30cm will seriously restrict Ireland's ability to achieve a viable afforestation programme," said John Murray last week.

Murray, who is director of the Murray Group and chair of the Irish Timber Council, said: "The programme goes against all the advice provided by Irish sawmills as it 'ignores the carbon sequestration role of productive conifer forests and the carbon storage and displacement of concrete and brick in construction', as identified in Ireland's Climate Action Plan.

"It also does a disservice to farmers and other timber growers who wish to earn a living from their forests."