Co-operatives can make a major contribution to Ireland’s new multi-million Forestry Development Programme to 2020, an Irish Co-Operative Organisation Society (ICOS) seminar has heard.

ICOS says over 20 delegates from co-operatives, advisory services, and academic interests attended the event to hear from Swedish and Danish forestry experts on the major potential for additional income to family owned forestry and renewable energy projects involving biomass from forestry.

ICOS says it is currently helping producer groups to develop member owned businesses to exploit this opportunity.

Siobhán Mehigan, Co-operative Development Executive of ICOS said that because they are member owned and operated businesses, co-operative forestry producer organisations can maximise the economic, environmental and social benefits that can be delivered by forestry at home as well as contributing to growth in this important export led processing sector.

“Co-operatives can address key strands of the 2020 Forestry Programme particularly in areas relating to knowledge and skills transfer and the establishment of producer groups which are very important elements of the development programme.

“Typically, producer groups can yield collective benefits through co-operation including joint planting, thinning and felling operations and equipment and machinery sharing. This can also extend into biomass processing operations,” she said.

Speaking at the seminar Karsten Raae, Senior Consultant & Forest Supervisor of Danish Forestry Extension (DFE) said that there is great potential for the development of a sustainable profitable, producer owned forestry sector in Ireland.

“However Ireland has a ready-made wood fuel resource in the large areas of farm forests planted over the past 3 decades they now require consistent thinning to achieve production potential and this should be arranged through co-operative producer organisations.

“Knowledge also needs to be built up around the harvesting and storing of wood for energy. There is increasing demand for wood based fuels including pellets and dry wood chips following from SEAI’s campaign encouraging businesses and consumers to install wood fuel boilers,” she said.

The DFE is currently working with the Irish Council for Forest Research and Development (COFORD) to develop harvesting systems for wood for energy in Irish private forests.

The Department of Agriculture has allocated some €482m of State investment to its 2020 Programme to provide a range of incentives and supports for forestry development over the next 6 years. This includes plans for 44,000 hectares of new forests, 700km of new forest roads and higher premium payments.

The new premiums are 20% higher than those in the previous forestry development programme and establishment grants have also increased by 5%.