Concerns were expressed about delays in publishing the new Forestry Programme (2023-2027) at last week’s national forestry conference in Enfield.
However, Colm Hayes, assistant secretary at the Department of Agriculture, assured the packed conference that “it is our aim to have the programme done and dusted before the end of the year.”
Minister of State Pippa Hackett, who provided the conference keynote address and took questions during the open forum, said she didn’t have details on the actual grants and premium payments, but said these would be “significantly increased” above the existing forestry programme.
“For landowners, an economic return is clearly important and such a return has to be linked to delivering on sustainable forestry,” she told the conference.
“Forestry needs to be economically attractive and viable if we are to achieve our ambitious targets for increased afforestation,” she added.
“The new Forestry Programme will see an enhanced role for non-wood forestry to reflect the action points set out in the draft forestry strategy.”
Acknowledging the conference theme of multipurpose forestry, she said: “There will be a greater focus on delivering environmental benefits from new and existing forests through offering supports for biodiversity protection and restoration.”
Many in the audience claimed that, at best, ground preparation and planting will not begin now until 2023, so the autumn-winter afforestation will be lost and possibly much of spring.
When asked if farmers and other landowners who plant before the new scheme is announced will qualify for increased grants and premium payments, Hayes said this was not possible in a exchequer funded scheme.
In a letter to Minister Hackett last week, Mark McAuley, director of Forest Industries Ireland, criticised the lack of information on the new forestry programme and the launch schedule.
“I want to make you aware of the urgent need to provide full details of the new programme, including all financial arrangements, as soon as possible,” he wrote.
Teige Ryan, director of None-so-Hardy Nurseries, said he had plant requirements from customers in England, Wales and Scotland over the coming three months.
“It is ironic that we have no information from Irish customers because afforestation won’t begin until, at best, early next year,” he said.
The Irish Farmers Journal will report on the individual papers presented at the conference next week.