Pressure is mounting on the Department of Agriculture to disclose the payment rates for the next Forestry Programme (2023-2027) amid escalating fears this autumn’s planting season “will be killed off”.
Private forestry representative group SEEFA has questioned the Department’s ability to deliver the programme for January 1 following last week’s National Forestry Conference.
It comes as the Department says it remains in “detailed discussion” with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) to agree “significantly more attractive” new financial arrangements “to incentivise the necessary levels of planting for Ireland to meet its afforestation targets”.
SEEFA chairman Teige Ryan said: “At the conference, I questioned Department of Agriculture assistant secretary Colm Hayes on the launch date of the next programme due to commence on January 1.
“The vague response by Mr Hayes has placed additional anxiety and stress on a private forestry sector which, for now, miraculously survives the Department’s ongoing forestry licencing scandal.
“Mr Hayes told the gathering his Department was still ‘aiming’ for January 1 – this offered little confidence given the Department’s track record of actual delivery.”
“Forestry companies and foresters have literally no product to sell, and so are completely left in limbo.
“The consequences are enormous as the autumn planting period would now be deferred to January, as participants will hold off until 2023 to avail of new premium rates.
“In essence the Forestry Division will have killed off yet another season, killed off more private sector employment, and continue to operate against Government targets and EU policy.”
In response, a Department spokesperson said “there has been significant engagement to date” with stakeholders and the public on the next Forestry Programme which goes to public consultation from today.
“Having secured an additional €12m in Budget 2023 for forestry to reach a total budget of €112m, DAFM is currently in detailed discussion with DPER to agree significantly more attractive grant and premium rates for the new Programme.
“It is hoped to be in a position to publish these details in the coming weeks. There is a large volume of work ongoing, and the Minister is confident of delivering.”