Delays Put Forestry Targets in Jeopardy
IFA Farm Forestry Chair Jason Fleming has said the delay in getting State Aid approval for the new Forestry Programme 2023 to 2027 means this year’s targets are unlikely to be met.
“We’re off to a bad start. The delay is going to have a huge impact on the afforestation programme in 2023, and makes the target to plant 8,000 new hectares as set out in the Climate Action Plan near impossible,” said Mr. Fleming.
“Farmers cannot move forward until State Aid approval has been received. Only when approval has been received can applications start to be processed.”
The average Turnaround Times (TATs) for afforestation licences in 2022 were just short of 18 months. Even if State Aid approval is received in Q1 2023, farmers could have to wait on average until Q4 2024 to get a decision to plant.
“The Department must focus on reducing the turnaround times. Under the legislation, farmers are supposed to have a decision within four months. 18 months is just unacceptable. We need to look at the system. There has to be a more streamlined process that would allow smaller on farm applications get a decision much more quickly.”
He said that there is an Interim Afforestation and Forest Road Schemes (via General De Minimis) available to farmers that hold a valid technical approval as of the 31st December 2022, and who have not started to plant or construct for a road. Under the interim schemes these farmers can avail of the new grants and premiums rates but will be paid under General De Minimis for the duration of the 20-year contract.
General De Minimis aid is small amounts of State Aid that can be given to a farmer, which cannot exceed €200,000 over any three-year rolling period. Participants of the interim schemes will be obliged to declare any other De Minimis aid they are receiving. If the total sum they receive exceeds the €200,000 threshold they may not be eligible for payment of grants and premiums.
“Farmers considering opting in to plant under the interim scheme should be aware of the €200,000 threshold over a rolling three-year period and check to see what De Minimis payment they are in receipt of, if any, before opting into the scheme,” he said.