Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 25 January 2023

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Forestry Policy and Strategy: Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senator. I know what an advocate he has been for the sector over the past couple of years, and through the challenging times, to try get it on track and the constructive work he has done in that regard. As I said at the outset, we worked our way through an unprecedented crisis and we have got to a situation where we are getting towards equilibrium in licences. We now have it under control and are able to process. We are processing and issuing a lot more than what is being received. There is very significant positivity around the announcement of the €1.3 billion plan and there is definitely a bounce about that. We have not spent that €1.3 billion. We are now going to spend it. That money is there. Farm families are going to apply for it. I know that from talking to farm families.

The challenge here is that farm families are not actually aware enough of what is available yet. I find it as I go around and talk to people and meet people. I say to them that they have an acre or two, or a couple of acres over there that they are not doing much with and I tell them they could put that into forestry and what they could get for it. Let us look at what they can get for it. If somebody puts a hectare of land into native trees, they will get €1,137 per hectare per year. That is not for 15 years, like before, but for 20 years. They will get their BPS entitlements on that hectare every year as well and it is tax-free. When they come to harvest the land, the income from it will be tax-free as well. That means that over 20 years a farmer who might not be doing a whole lot with some of his land, or even if he is doing a whole lot, can put a hectare in and over the next 20 years can draw down, give or take, €23,000 in premiums. It is a very significant income potential and will make a real contribution. Particularly in the case of the native premium I have described, it will make a real significant contribution to biodiversity objectives, climate change and emissions. Most farmers out there do not know that yet. I hope some of them are listening tonight. If they are, I am telling them we are open for business and that they should think about how they can encompass some forestry in their land if they have the potential to do it. It will not be for everyone but it can be for a lot and it will be a real opportunity for additional income for a lot of people.

We have that €1.3 billion in the pot to spend, and we have a licensing system now that is working, is fit for purpose and is fully resourced. It is out of the crisis it was in. We have work to do. Senator Boyhan asked earlier what we are going to do for the next half. In the first half, we have got rid of the crisis. The next half is about driving on, meeting our forestry targets and spending that €1.3 billion and in doing so, making sure families get the potential for them to make a significant income and enable them to contribute to biodiversity, emissions and climate challenge as well.