Forestry Programme 2014-2020 Public Consultation

Tom Hayes, Minister of State with responsibility for forestry, has announced details of the proposed new forestry programme covering the period 2014 to 2020. These have been released for public consultation alongside an environmental report on the new plan for forestry. Following the public consultation process, the proposed programme will be submitted to the European Commission for approval and will be operational from 1 January 2015.

The main proposals cover afforestation grants and premia, while the remaining nine measures include roading grants, funding for reconstitution of damaged forests, woodland improvement and investment in technology, as well as support for producer groups and incentives for private owners to produce forest management plans.

Afforestation

However, the measures that are likely to attract greatest attention are the revised afforestation grant and premium schemes (Tables 1 and 2).

“These measures aim to increase forest cover and generate additional supplies of timber and wood biomass to meet the projected increase in demand from the wood processing and renewable energy sectors,” said Minister Hayes.

Launching the latest round of public consultation, the Minister said that he was encouraged by the level of engagement by stakeholders so far.

“I am happy to announce that the number of annual premium payments being proposed is now 15 instead of 12, as set out in the earlier consultation document issued in March.

“This is a significant improvement on what was originally proposed and is particularly noteworthy given that the premium rate has also increased by 10% for the most popular grant category.” The Minister also signalled a proposed small increase in some grant rates.

“The plan has been designed to encourage more land owners to invest in forestry, with the introduction of two premium payment scales whereby applications greater than 8ha will receive a higher premium,” he claimed. “Secondly, the inclusion of a single rate of premium for farmers and non-farmers [will] incentivise non-farmers to plant trees under the new scheme.”

Two new schemes, agroforestry and fast rotation for fibre production, have been introduced with respective premium schemes of five and 10-year periods.

Disappointment has already been expressed about the reduction of the premium payment period of 15 years for major afforestation schemes. This falls well short of the existing 20-year timeframe, so there is likely to be robust debate during the public consultation period to increase the payment period or rate to part compensate for a 25% reduction in the premium duration.

A 10% increase in the annual premia for afforestation on unenclosed land (Table 2) is welcome but is still too low to act as a stimulus to encourage planting of the identified 250,000ha of productive unenclosed land suitable for afforestation. In addition, the establishment grant (at €2,500/ha) is almost 30% below the rate provided for afforestation on enclosed land (Table 1).

There is a significant increase in grant aid where fencing is carried out using IS436 certified fencing stakes. IS436 fencing stakes conform to an accepted standard that guarantees a longer service life than non-IS436 material. The previous scheme provided €400/ha for IS436 and €350/ha for non-IS436. The €50 differential wasn’t sufficient to encourage forest owners – or forestry companies – to use registered longer lasting IS436 stakes and strainers which are more expensive.

Under the new proposed measures, the differential has been increased to €150/ha. IS436 fencing stakes now attract a €500/ha grant while the grant for non-IS436 has been reduced to €300/ha (Table 1).

Forest roads

Minister Hayes outlined a number of changes to the forest road scheme in relation to the area of eligibility and the timing of payments. “In addition, it is proposed that a grant of up to €5,000 for special construction works be provided and support for connecting to existing forest road networks,” he said.

“The grants for special construction works will be targeted at applications falling within Natura 2000 sites and other environmentally sensitive areas. The aim will be to encourage the building of infrastructure that will help minimise any adverse effects on water quality that might arise from harvesting activity.”

Investment

A Department spokesperson said that the objectives of the programme “include the establishment of over 46,000ha of new forests, the construction of 960km of forest roads and improved levels of support for the establishment and conservation of native woodlands”.

He said that, in tandem with the programme, “the Department is working with New Era to examine the possibilities for institutional investment in forestry”.

Consultation

The proposed forestry programme is now subject to a public consultation process. Written submission can be emailed (forestryprogram2014-2020@agriculture.gov.ie) before 13 October while details of programme and the Environmental Report are available at www.agriculture.gov.ie/forestservice/publicconsultation/

Taken from article in the Farmer’s Journal: http://www.farmersjournal.ie/details-of-proposed-forestry-programme-2014-2020-announced-165032/