The primary producer in farming “always seems to take the smallest portion” and the current forestry felling licence backlog sees everyone else having their say and forest owners “sitting around twiddling their thumbs and going without income”.
That was the view expressed by Andy Dunne, the spokesperson for the Laois Farm Forestry group who are now members of the wider Irish Forest Owners (IFO) organisation.
There is currently a crisis in the sector at the moment with a massive backlog in tree felling licences leading to a shortage of timber. As well as that it is putting jobs at risk and leaving farmers waiting an extended period to harvest their crop.
“The forest owners group is a collection of about 10 county groups who have come together over the last three months to give the forest owners, private forest owners, a stronger voice on a national platform,” he explained when chatting to Paul Downey on the LaoisToday Midweek Podcast recently.
“The immediate purpose to give them a voice in the felling licence issue. Farmers can’t get licence to fell their timber. There is an immediate impact on the farmer but there is an impact on the downstream activities of the forest as well.
“That is significant in a place like Laois – apart from the 300 farmers who are involved in the business, you have 500 or 600 people working in forestry in Laois, in the sawmills and you have contractors as well.
“There are quite a lot of people effected and interested in this.”
A number of objections to licenses led to a court ruling in relation to how the applications were being processed – leading to a significant level of additional paper work for the relevant department. And it means that farmers waiting to harvest their crop can’t do so and the saw mills are close to running out of supplies.
“These mills have a constant demand,” he added.
“A lot of the primary product from the forest is delivered pretty much on a just in time basis. It gets cut down in the forest and moved to the sawmill and is processed fairly quickly.
“There isn’t a lot of stock in the system and if the ability to provide those mills with supplies cut off, their ability to produce and sell goods is impeded.
I read last week about mills in Cork importing boat loads of logs from Scotland and that’s not a good position to be in and that’s just to keep them going in the short term.
“So there’s a vulnerability to families and employment in the county.
“Nothing in terms of felling licences is coming out and it’s getting fairly close to grinding to a halt.
“The land owners are caught in the middle. They are collateral damage. Everyone else is having their say and we’re sitting here twiddling our thumbs and going without income.
“We need to bring more certainty and clarity in the process.”
“Jobs and indeed an entire sector is on the line here unless we get this right and get it right fast,” said Laois-Offaly TD Carol Nolan on the issue recently.
“This is also totally counter-productive from an environmental point of view. What farmer is going to be encouraged to take up forestry if this is the level of dysfunction that they will have to deal with on a regular basis.
“This is in turn will drive down even further our capacity to meet the kind of annual afforestation targets which are set out in the Climate Mitigation Plan.
“The current situation is that the forestry sector remains mired in seemingly interminable licensing backlogs.
“There are also major issues around our capacity to reach the 20% afforestation target outlined in the programme for Government.
“Department of Agriculture officials maintain about 1,900 licences are in what is they classify the ‘ecology backlog.’ But this figured is disputed and it may be as high as over 4,000.
“They have set a target which will involve clearance of that backlog by the end of the year. But based on past performance there is simply no credibility to this statement.
“This entire mess may very well end up putting off a generation of farmers from getting involved in afforestation. With every new year it seems that yet round of ecological criteria must be met/satisfied and this is leading to huge problems in its own right.”
“Trees have a good way of taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere,” added Andy. “They have a value in dealing with climate change and there is increasing impetus to encourage farmers to do that.
“The state will support farmers to grow trees and they will give you some income for the first 15 years because that is a fairly bleak time.
“It’s quite well incentivised by the state but the downside of it is, once you put land into forestry you are obliged to keep it in forestry forever.
“If you have a good crop and look after it well you have a good income after 30 years but you have to use that income to keep you going for next 15 years and it doesn’t suit everyone.”
“Have a long think about it and get good advice,” he says to landowners considering putting some of their land into forestry.
“There is an obligation to keep it in forestry (which) in some ways devalues your land. There is a limitation on it. We will give anyone a hand in the Laois group but some land is not suitable.”
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