Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, recently held a meeting with the “pillar banks” to emphasize the importance of the forestry sector to government policy and to assure them that his department will deliver on a new Forestry Programme. The European Commission is currently reviewing the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s (DAFM’s) State Aid notification for the €1.3 billion Forestry Programme 2023-2027. Once approval has been received, the DAFM will be able to launch new forestry schemes subject to finalisation of the Strategic Environmental Assessment.
In response to a question raised by Deputy Cathal Crowe, Minister McConalogue confirmed that over €47.8 million has been paid out to forestry companies and forest owners in 2023, which is in line with payments for the same period in 2022. He also stated that the DAFM will continue to deal with payments in a timely manner. However, Deputy Crowe also raised concerns about the difficulties faced by foresters due to labor shortages and high input costs, particularly fuel and insurance costs, despite their product being in high demand.
Companies in the forestry sector are “squeezed” and find it hard to function, which is also due to the “huge” amount of time it takes foresters to get licenses approved, Deputy Crowe told Agriland. “Whilst the government is very pro-forestry, the banks are dealing with other sectors in the economy that have quicker turnarounds for investments. And forestry simply isn’t one of those. The forestry sector will grow but it requires a lot of investment. Timber can be lucrative when it is harvested but that is 30-40 years away,” Deputy Crowe said.
The recent Forestry Licensing Dashboard by the DAFM shows that 641ha have been planted so far this year up until the week ending Friday, June 16. In June, 128ha were planted, while in the previous months, 82ha, 127ha, and 190ha were afforested in March, April, and May, respectively. The licenses issued within the first six months of 2023 allow for 119ha of afforestation. Seven afforestation licenses were issued so far in 2023, while 55 applications were received.
However, approvals under the Interim Afforestation Scheme via General De Minimis rose to 284, according to the DAFM’s Forestry Licensing Dashboard. Those with valid afforestation licenses issued before the end of 2022 can avail of the current planting season under the higher grant and premium rates proposed under the new program.
Minister McConalogue recently assured the Dáil that his department received further correspondence relating to their application from the commission on Tuesday, June 6, which will require a response. “My department will now respond to this correspondence comprehensively in as efficient a timeframe as possible,” he said.
Stating that the DAFM does not intend to introduce a one-off payment to aid foresters in making their annual insurance payment, Minister McConalogue said: “I am firmly committed to introducing a well-funded Forestry Programme which both meets the needs of society and that of the sector, and this will provide guaranteed long-term investment in the sector.”
In conclusion, while the forestry sector faces challenges, the Irish government remains committed to supporting it through a new Forestry Programme. The DAFM is awaiting approval from the European Commission for the €1.3 billion program, which will be subject to finalisation of the Strategic Environmental Assessment. The recent Forestry Licensing Dashboard shows progress in afforestation, and those with valid afforestation licenses issued before the end of 2022 can avail of the current planting season under the higher grant and premium rates proposed under the new program.