Government’s €1.3 billion Forestry Programme a “lost opportunity” for farmers, warns Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA). The IFA states that the construction of the programme will discourage many farmers from participating due to concerns about the commercial viability of forestry investments. Although the funding for the programme is deemed “very strong,” farmers lack reassurance. The European Commission has approved a €308 million Irish scheme to support investments in afforestation under EU state aid rules. The scheme aims to expand the Irish national forest estate on public and private land, delivering benefits for climate, biodiversity, wood production, economic development, employment, and quality of life. Premiums of up to €1,142/ha for planting trees will be available under the EU approved afforestation scheme as part of the government’s new Forestry Programme 2023-2027.
However, the IFA claims that farmers’ concerns have not been taken into account by the government. According to Jason Fleming, IFA’s forestry chair, farmers will be required to reduce their productive area by 32% for areas of biodiversity enhancement and broadleaves, with only a 20-year premium. This reduction in productive area will result in the loss of timber earnings and ecosystem services without any compensation. Fleming also raises concerns about the Payment for Eco System Services (PES) outlined in the programme. The IFA believes that farmers should be paid to manage land set aside for biodiversity enhancement and broadleaves. They argue that the PES rate should reflect the income foregone from timber production and should be extended beyond the proposed seven years.
The IFA further highlights issues with premium rates, advocating for index-linked rates and an increased rate for existing forest owners. They also believe that infected ash woodland should be eligible for a 100% “reconstitution grant.” The replanting obligation is seen as a significant barrier to farmers’ participation in forestry and should be reviewed, according to the IFA.
In conclusion, the IFA expresses disappointment with the government’s new Forestry Programme, stating that it fails to meet the needs of farmers. They emphasize the lack of reassurance regarding the commercial viability of forestry investments and raise concerns about the reduction in productive area, the Payment for Eco System Services, premium rates, and infected ash woodland. The IFA calls for a review of the replanting obligation, which they believe hinders farmers’ participation in forestry.