Forest owners will receive their annual tax-free forestry payments for 2015 by April 17, Tom Hayes, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture has said.

“The level of payments each year illustrate the interest and take-up of the Afforestation Grant and Premium Scheme over the years, with farmers representing the bulk of the forest owners.

“I am confident that the new Forestry Programme 2014-2020, which consists of 11 measures with increased grant and premium rates for new afforestation projects, will prove equally attractive to landowners,” Minister Hayes said.

The forest payments also provide for planting and establishment grants for new afforestation projects that are compliant with national and EU legislation and operational and environmental guidelines.

The Minister said that the number of forest owners applying through the Department’s online services for their annual forestry premiums is increasing. He also said at the end of March almost 9,000 online forestry premium applications, valued at €35.5m, were processed and paid before the forthcoming bulk premium payment run.

Minister Hayes said that this was an increase from 2014, when 8,710 such online applications amounting to €34.9m were received.

Some 7,708 applications, with a value of €23.73m, will be paid in this year’s premium payment run and forestry premium applications continue to be processed by the Department throughout the year, the Minister said.

“A fundamental requirement for achieving the potential of Irish forestry, and for the future prosperity of our forest industry, is a continuous supply of good quality timber. I am encouraged by the level of interest shown to date in the planting of forestry and I encourage other landowners to evaluate forestry as a viable land-use option,” Minister Hayes said.