Afforestation Licensing System Criticized as “Resounding Failure” by Rural Independent Group
The afforestation licensing system in Ireland has come under heavy criticism from the Rural Independent Group, who have labeled it a “resounding failure.” According to the latest figures released by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), only 12 licenses for new plantings have been issued in 2023. These 12 licenses allow for a total of 170 hectares of new plantings. This figure is a far cry from the government’s annual target of 8,000 hectares and has been described by the group as “shocking” and in “stark contrast” to expectations.
The Rural Independent Group expressed their deep concern over the situation. Deputy Mattie McGrath, the leader of the group, stated, “The afforestation program was intended to empower farmers with increased planting grants and extended annual premium payments. However, due to delays in scheme approval, this year’s tree planting season has been a complete write-off.” McGrath emphasized that the best months for planting have already passed, further exacerbating the issue.
In an effort to rectify the situation, the Forestry Programme 2023-2027 received final approval from the Cabinet on Wednesday, September 6. The new afforestation scheme is now open for applications. The scheme, worth €308 million, offers increased premia for planting trees, with payments of up to €1,142 per hectare depending on the forest type. Additionally, the premium period has been extended from 15 to 20 years for farmers.
The delay in EU State Aid approval, which was only granted last month, has left farmers and the forestry industry in a state of uncertainty this year. The Rural Independent Group highlighted the issue of delayed planting licenses, which they claim has been a persistent problem for the past six years. Deputy McGrath expressed his disappointment, stating, “It’s ironic that the same government, particularly the Green Party, that has been pushing and pressuring farmers to become more environmentally friendly, failed to take advantage of an opportunity to implement an environmentally beneficial forestry scheme themselves.” He further emphasized the need for improved strategic planning and execution in the forestry sector.
It is clear that the afforestation licensing system in Ireland has fallen short of expectations. With only 12 licenses issued so far this year, the government’s annual target of 8,000 hectares seems increasingly unattainable. The delay in scheme approval and the subsequent impact on the planting season have left farmers and the forestry industry frustrated and disappointed. The new afforestation scheme offers hope for the future, with increased premia and extended premium periods. However, it is crucial that the government addresses the issues that have plagued the sector in the past and ensures a more efficient and effective system moving forward. Only then can Ireland fully harness the potential of its forestry sector and meet its environmental goals.