Ministry of Agriculture urged compliance with forest licensing rules

Pressure is mounting on the Department of Agriculture to abolish its embattled forest licensing system, as only 12 planting licenses have been issued per week so far this year.

Leading economist John Fitzgerald says removing the need for permits for felling, planting, thinning and roads is “the first necessary step” to reinvigorate the activity of farmers, who he believes should be allowed to reduce methane emissions from cattle through planting of trees to balance their land.

Private forestry advocacy group SEEFA says the ministry’s designed licensing model “will never be suitable for the sector,” while IFA says the regime “needs a complete reform” to stem ongoing bureaucracy and delays.

It comes ahead of the start of the 2023-2027 National Forestry Program, which is expected to be announced at next month’s National Plowing Championships.

Speaking to the Farming Independent Adjunct Professor of Economics at Trinity College Dublin and former Chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council, John Fitzgerald said the licensing system “has prevented farmers from planting trees”.

He added: “First get rid of the licensing system, get things working again and then see if the incentives are sufficient to deliver what we want or do we have to spend more money.

“From the state’s point of view, it is important to continuously promote planting over the next 30 years. This is really urgent because it is a win-win for everyone – there is no point in sitting around and doing nothing while the climate is getting worse and farmers can’t make money from it.”

He says farmers should be able to offset emissions from their farms. “Looking at forestry together with agriculture makes sense for reasons of incentive. If a farmer has cattle that emit methane but can offset this by planting trees, then depending on stocking density, farmers could fully offset the impact of existing cattle on their land by trees.

“It is important to give farmers the opportunity to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. We should welcome farmers instead of preventing them from being part of the solution, which is the current situation.”

SEEFA Chair Teige Ryan said afforestation for 2022 “will end below 2,000ha of an 8,000ha target”.

“Everyone loses. This is much more alarming from a climate change perspective, as COFORD (the advisory group appointed by the Minister) states that 16,000 ha per year are needed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

“Last week the ministry’s dashboard showed a miserable 13 afforestation licenses for the week, up from the year to date average of 12 per week – a far cry from the 20 licenses required each week to meet the ministry’s own soft targets.

“The obvious solution is to move from a licensing system to a regulatory model, as advocated by Professor John Fitzgerald of the Climate Change Advisory Council.”

The Department of Agriculture did not respond to inquiries about the issues raised in this article. Ministry of Agriculture urged compliance with forest licensing rules

Fry Electronics Team

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