Pat Hennessy, IFA Farm Forestry Chairman welcomed the new Programme for Governments’ commitment to an afforestation programme of 14,700 hectares per annum, this represents almost a doubling of the annual planting programme.
He said there is considerable demand among farmers to plant. Since the start of the 2011 nearly 5,000 hectares of new forests have been established on Irish farms, such is the demand that funding for the 2011 spring planting programme is already used up.
“I have not doubt that there is sufficient interest in private sector to achieve the afforestation target outlined and I look forward to working with the new Government to ensure that the target is realised”.
However, he said one of the most pressing issues for the private forest sector is the mobilisation of the timber resource. He said private forests now account for nearly 50% of the national forest estate and the mobilisation of this resource are crucial to achieving Ireland’s timber production and renewable energy targets.
“I would like to commend the new Government on their commitment to accelerate the development of the forestry and bioenergy sector, which offers huge opportunities to create sustainable and vibrant rural employment. This represents a new focus for renewable energy policy in Ireland, which to date concentrated on wind energy”.
He cautioned that the merging Coillte and Bord na Mona into the new State company called BioEnergy Ireland must not be allowed to dominate the market but should support the private bioenergy sector to achieve its potential.
“Farmers have a central role to play in the bioenergy sector and I welcome the new Programme for Government proposal to facilitate the development of energy co-operatives, which I believe is key to the mobilisation of the fragmented private forest resource”.
IFA supported by the Forest Service is currently developing a practical guide for farmers interested in establishing a forest owner organisation; the project is particularly focussed on supplying wood into the local energy market.