The Government’s Forestry Programme remains seriously flawed and will not achieve its stated planting target of 8,000ha a year, farmers and private forestry interests have warned.

Ongoing administrative failings and policy decisions – such as the requirement to include 20% broadleaves in commercial spruce plantations – have weakened investor interest in forestry, according to the Social Environmental Economic Forestry Association (SEEFA).

The IFA has also warned that the €1.3 billion programme will struggle to secure sufficient support from farmers because of the “risks and costs” associated with forestry.

SEEFA questioned the scientific justification for the exclusion of lands with more than 30cm of peat soils from the programme, as well as acid sensitive areas.

In addition, the forestry body asked why only broadleaves are being sanctioned for new plantings on reclaimed fen or cut-away bog.

Licensing delays

The ongoing administrative failures which have dogged the forestry sector over the last four years – including the licensing delays and the continuing ash dieback controversy – will have to be sorted out to build investor confidence, SEEFA maintained.

The IFA’s concerns centre on the viability of forestry for farmers, despite the significantly increased premiums for planting in the new programme.

“In order for forestry to be considered a viable option for farmers again, the Government needs to de-risk the investment,” said Geraldine O’Sullivan, senior policy executive with IFA.

“Successive policies have restricted eligible land, eroded productive area, and increased the regulatory burden. The risks and costs associated with managing forests, particularly for small farm forests, have become too great,” O’Sullivan explained.

“The funding model, despite the substantial increase in premiums, does not alleviate the risks as they do not pay farmers for the increasing non-productive areas or ecosystem services provided,” she said.