Sir, – Susan McKay’s article of March 16th (Weekend) has generated important debate about our national forestry programme.
Despite forestry’s well-studied climate change mitigation benefits, its contribution to renewable energy, biodiversity, flood control, recreation and its now increasingly recognised economic benefits, as highlighted in recent letters, significantly more Government aid is paid out for other farming activities at a national level. The 2018 Fact Sheet on Irish Agriculture from the Department of Agriculture outlines that for 2016, “Payments to farmers totalled €1.8 billion including Single Farm Payment, Rural Development and Forestry Payments”. Of this €1.8 billion spend, forestry and bio-fuels combined received just €104 million or less than 6 per cent of the total. However, the Irish forestry and timber sector has an annual economic output valued at approximately €2.3 billion.
In any debate this balance of supports should be discussed, particularly when one considers that according to Teagasc’s National Farm Survey 2017, only 21 per cent of “cattle rearing” farms are economically viable, with 28 per cent of “sheep” and 32 per cent of “cattle other” family farms viable. These three farming systems account for over 70 per cent of our 84,599 Irish farms. Bear in mind that 35 per cent of all farms in the State earned less than €10,000 annually. Forestry has the potential not just to contribute to carbon sequestration, thereby saving the exchequer in significant carbon fines into the future, but with a well-implemented programme so many additional economic and other benefits can be generated for individual farm families and at national level. – Yours, etc,