The Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) has called for the introduction of a compensation package for farmers who are unable to harvest plantations due to appeals of felling licences and licences being overturned.

The proposals were included in the association’s pre-budget submission, which was finalised last week.

The IFA said major changes to the State’s forestry programme will be required to convince farmers to plant ground.

Farmers planted just 360ha in 2021. This figure equates to 18% of the 2,000ha of private forestry plantings last year. The national target is 8,000ha per year.

Policy decisions

The IFA blamed the low level of farmer planting on successive policy decisions, including the cutting of forest premiums, restrictions on planting productive land, increased environmental requirements and ongoing delays in getting planting and felling licenses.

Farmers have a critical role to play in achieving the afforestation targets, the IFA stated, but it claimed the current policy and supports were not working for them.

The IFA submission pointed out that just 42ha of new agro-forestry systems were established between 2016 and 2021, despite the launch of the innovative agro-forestry scheme.

Among the forestry proposals included in the IFA pre-budget submission were:

  • An increase in the premiums available under the afforestation and woodland creation schemes to better reflect the opportunity cost and the commitment of farmers.
  • The extension of the premium payment duration under the agro-forestry scheme from five years to 15 years.
  • The introduction of a forest owner-producer organisation scheme to provide supports for the preparation and implementation of production and marketing plans for forest owner organisations.
  • The development of a national forest group certification scheme that mirrors similar successful schemes operating in other European countries. Currently in the private sector, only 4% of the private forest estate is certified.
  • The allocation of funding to establish a forestry development agency to drive the industry. It would be charged with optimising the performance of the Irish forest industry by providing technical expertise, business support, funding and training.