Forestry is “the only show in town” for decarbonising agriculture and reaching our climate goals whilst creating rural jobs, Forestry Industries Ireland (FII) has claimed.

However, the Ibec forestry body said that this ability is being impeded by current forestry schemes, which are not competitive enough.

It said this has resulted in only 2,000ha/year of forestry being planted, rather than the government target of 10,000ha/year.

If Ireland does not use afforestation to balance its agriculture emissions then the sector can achieve only minimal emissions reductions, FII said.

The body added that grants and premiums will need to be increased by up to 50% in the new Forestry Programme due next January, which would require an additional €50 million.

FII said we need to double the number of farmers who are growing trees.

These new forests alone would yield €3-4 billion in timber sales for those farmers and create 6,000 new jobs in the next decade.

“If we doubled the number of farmers that could grow trees, further to the existing 23,000, and get them to plant just 6 or 7ha each, then we can easily achieve our national target of 18% forest cover by 2050,” FII director, Mark McAuley explained.

“Each new hectare of mixed Sitka forest will remove 5.6t of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere each year, so 138,000ha would be a gamechanger for Ireland reaching its climate goals and would safeguard farming incomes.

“It’s a no-brainer given that forestry is the second only to dairy in creating wealth for farmers,” he added.

“What we need to do to accelerate afforestation is significantly increase financial incentives to farmers, ease access to the forestry schemes, reduce red tape and speed up licensing and set up payments for ecosystem services and voluntary carbon market,” McAuley outlined.

MEP Maria Walsh, Senators Regina Doherty and Aisling Dolan at Murray Timber Group’s sawmill in Ballygar, Co. Galway.
Image: Hany Marzouk Photography

FII made the call to government as they showcased the timber industry to a group of politicians yesterday (Friday, July 22) at Murray Timber Group’s sawmill in Ballygar, Co. Galway.

The mill employs 90 people close to the Roscommon-Galway border at their state-of-the-art plant.

FII explained that this thriving timber business is worth €75 million to the immediate local economy and also supports a further 350 jobs through contractors in haulage, forestry harvesting and planting.

Over 600,000m3 of logs, which hold 600,000t of CO2, is harvested and brought each year to the sawmill.

The harvested trees are used for house building, bark for the horticulture sector, wood pellets, saw dust and material for door frames and medium-density fibreboard (MDF) products.