IFA President Tim Cullinan said the Irish forest sector is being strangled by the very Department that is charged with promoting it.
“The forest sector is in ‘a state of emergency’. There is a backlog of approximately 2,500 licences that are pending a decision by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine. Some of these licences are pending for over two years. This is in addition to the nearly 500 licences that are under appeal,” he said.
“The new Minister of State with responsibility for forestry Pippa Hackett needs to get an immediate grip of the situation if we are to have any credible farm forestry programme in the country,” he said.
“While the recent amendment to the Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act will help to speed up the process, the real problem is in the Forest Service within the Department of Agriculture,” he said.
There are three different types of licences – afforestation (planting), forest roads and felling (thinning & clearfell).
The delay in felling licences, in particular, is causing huge and immediate problems. There is an acute shortage of timber in the country. “This is threatening the very future of the sector with sawmills grinding to a halt and 12,000 jobs at risk. Timber is now being imported from abroad. Thousands of acres stand ready for harvest, but they are blocked by a dysfunctional licencing system,” he said.
“It is indefensible that farmers who were encouraged to plant forestry are now being prevented from thinning and managing their timber crop,” he said.
“Farmers are so frustrated with forestry and are disengaging from it as a land use. It is expected that only 2,500 hectares of the target of 8,000 hectares will be planted this year. This is just 30% of the target and yet it is a crucial part of Ireland’s emissions reduction strategy,” he said.
The costs associated with planting and managing farm forests are unsustainable. The average farm forest is 8 hectares. The current system actively discourages planting of smaller areas due to the costs involved.
IFA have set out an emergency plan to address the crisis. This includes an immediate amnesty for forest road and felling licences, if they are waiting for more than four months to be processed which is the target processing time set out in the legislation.
“We need to cut out the messing. This is an emergency. The very fabric of the industry is at risk. If sawmills close, they may not re-open. We risk shutting down infrastructure built up over decades and jobs being lost in rural areas,” he said.