Farmers with forestry, led by IFA President Tim Cullinan, are demonstrating outside the Convention Centre in Dublin today to highlight the crisis in the forest sector and the need for emergency legislation to reform the licence system.
“Farmers are being denied the right to manage their forests. They planted their land with the legitimate expectation that they would be able to thin and realise an income during its rotation, but the delays mean that this is no longer a reality for many,” he said.
There are nearly 6,000 forest licences (afforestation, road and felling licences) caught up in the backlog.
“This is jeopardising the entire industry, from nurseries to sawmilling, with hundreds of jobs already lost. The increased volume of imported timber is placing the health of the forest estate at unnecessary risk. Not to mention the economic burden on forest owners who cannot release the equity in their forests or who are watching the value of their timber crop decrease by over €10,000/ha if they cannot get a licence to thin.”
He said the current crisis is undermining confidence in forestry as a land use option, at a time when we need more farmers to plant if we are to meet our climate objectives.
IFA Farm Forestry Chairman Vincent Nally said forest owners are beyond frustrated with the system and the never-ending red tape that is preventing them from realising the value of their investment.
“We are here today to let the Minister know that farmers have had enough. If there is any chance of restoring farmer confidence in forestry, the Minister must act now”.
He said it’s over five months since Minister Hackett announced Project Woodland. Although there has been a lot of work in the background, the time for talking is over. We need the Minister to introduce emergency legislation to deal with the licence backlog once and for all.
Many farmers are waiting over two years for a licence. The Forestry Act says that a farmer should have to wait no longer than four months for a decision.
Vincent Nally said the Government needs to introduce a system that actively supports farmers to plant and manage forests at farm scale, with a proportionate regulatory burden that reflects the size, the type of operation, and which guarantees approval within an agreed timeframe.
“Restoring farmers’ confidence in forestry, and supporting farm forestry once more, is the only option if Ireland is to achieve the ambitious annual afforestation targets set out in the 2019 Climate Action Plan of 8,000 ha,” said Mr. Nally.
Forests account for 11% or 770,020 ha of the total land area of Ireland, with 49% in private ownership. The value of the industry to the national economy is €2.3bn. It supports 12,000 rural jobs and provides important biodiversity and ecosystem services.
The most recent forecast predicts that the annual potential roundwood supply will increase from 4.9 million in 2021 to 7.9 million cubic metres by 2035, with the majority of the extra supply coming from farm forests.