Tuesday, 13 October 2020
Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
585. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if €4 million will be allocated to restore the farmer premium and the introduction of a harvesting plan grant to assist forest owners and a review of the ash dieback scheme to include an income compensation element; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29591/20]
The current Forestry Programme received State aid approval in 2015 which covered the grant and premium payment structure for the existing afforestation scheme. The programme itself will end in December 2020 but delays in finalising the new CAP regulations and State aid rules applicable to forestry mean that the programme will extend beyond this timeframe.
While some minor changes may be introduced during the transitional period, as these may be covered under the existing State aid approval, more significant changes such as reintroducing the farmer premium rate may require new State aid approval. Therefore, consideration of this proposal is better suited to take place as part of the development of the next Forestry Programme. Work on this new Programme is due to start in the coming months which will involve an extensive public consultation process and engagement with stakeholders across the forest sector.
In relation to support for harvest plans, the current State aid guidelines rule out grant aid for harvesting the primary purpose of which is the commercially viable extraction of timber. Whether or not the new State aid rules contain a higher degree of flexibility in this regard remains to be seen.
In April 2018, my Department, announced a review of the national response to Ash Dieback Disease as it was increasingly evident from experience and the latest scientific advice that eradication of Ash Dieback disease was no longer feasible. The focus of the review was on the policy approach and associated support schemes, considering the move away from Ash Dieback eradication and bringing ash plantation management into focus. This new approach was circulated for stakeholder consultation in December 2019 and a total of 18 submissions were received in reply. All submissions were carefully considered, and a number of meetings held with stakeholders to finalise a new scheme document. The new Reconstitution and Underplanting Scheme or RUS was launched in June 2020. There are no plans to undertake a review so soon after the scheme launch. However, the consultation process for the next forestry programme will provide an opportunity to revisit the question of an income compensation element in a revised Ash Dieback scheme.
586. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the options and supports available to small forestry owners who wish to replant with native Irish woodland species; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29595/20]
In general, there are no reforestation grants available on clearfell, as the realisation of the timber asset is considered more than adequate to cover the cost of replanting. However, under certain conditions replanting grants are made available as part of the Native Woodland Conservation Scheme. Under this scheme the conversion of existing conifer forests to native woodland are eligible for grants of up to €5,000 per hectare. Private forest owners are also eligible for an annual premium payment of €350 per hectare for 7 years.
In order to receive this funding the conifer forest must be adjoining a sensitive watercourse, where native woodland establishment can contribute to the protection of water quality and aquatic habitats and species. Water sensitive areas include Freshwater Pearl Mussel catchments, fisheries sensitive areas, Acid Sensitive Areas, and high status waterbodies identified under the Water Framework Directive.
Where a marketable quantity of timber is realised from the felling operation, the quantity (in cubic metres) of timber must be documented and details submitted to my Department, together with evidence of timber-related income (including invoices and receipts). My Department may reduce the grant payable accordingly, reflecting the value of the timber realised and (where relevant) the normal costs associated with standard replanting.
Applications under the Native Woodland Conservation Scheme must be made before clearfelling takes place and applicants must ensure that a valid felling licence is in place for any felling carried out under the scheme.