Forest Industries Ireland (FII) has called on Minister of State with responsibility for forestry Pippa Hackett to take a major step forward in the next forestry programme and significantly increase financial returns to landowners for planting trees.
The evidence of the last 10 years is that we are not providing sufficient incentives to attract large numbers of farmers and landowners into afforestation, according to FII.
“Planting numbers have fallen to 2,000 hectares, the lowest rate in decades," the organisation claimed.
“This is largely a function of the competing economic returns from alternative land uses and we must now make a step-change in the incentives provided under the Forestry Programme 2023-2027.
“There is conclusive evidence to demonstrate that the current incentives for forestry are not sufficient,” the group said.
Land use change
If the Minister and this Government are not willing to invest heavily in incentivising land use change into forestry (and fix the regulatory system), then they cannot stand over their commitment to climate change, the group claimed.
It has said that Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan and Minister Hackett should be insisting at cabinet that afforestation is given the budget required to make it take off.
They will also have to ensure that the new 2023 forestry schemes are designed and implemented in such a way that they deliver productive and profitable forests for landowners.
“Grants and premiums payable to farmers will have to be increased very significantly to provide a competitive offering in today’s agricultural market.
“Small increases of 10% to 20% will not be sufficient in changing the dynamics and we will need to see much larger increases.
“The second factor is the commercial return available from planting forestry and producing a yield of timber.
"We must ensure that we maximise the productive area in new conifer forests and provide supports for the optimum forest management approach to deliver highly productive forests.
It is a challenge that must be met
“Over the past decade, there has been a steady increase in conditions and restrictions and this must be kept under control if we are to maximise timber yields and, thus, incentivise land owners to plant forests in the first instance.
"This commercial return is critically important,” it said.
In the case of native woodlands, FII said Government should seriously consider extending the forestry premiums to help abate the economic cost of a landowner moving their land into an uneconomic land use.
FII director Mark McAuley said increasing annual afforestation to 8,000ha and beyond is a financial and political challenge for the Government.
“However, it is a challenge that must be met if the Government’s carbon targets are to be achieved,” he said.