Thousands of plantation owners with little or nothing to show for two decades of management and investment - this is the reality of ash dieback, according to the Irish Forest Owners (IFO).
The IFO accused the Government of "pulling the rug" from under growers who had been hit by ash dieback.
The forestry body called on the Government to pay full afforestation premiums on replanting to all forest owners impacted by ash dieback.
In addition, the IFO said “just compensation” had to be provided to growers.
Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue recently ruled out providing compensation for income loss to the 6,000 forestry owners with ash plantations, citing EU state aid rules.
IFO chair Nicholas Sweetman said this latest rejection by Minister McConalogue had “outraged” plantation owners and he challenged the Minister’s interpretation of EU state aid guidelines.
“The Minister claims that state aid guidelines prevent him from compensating forest owners for loss of income, while conveniently ignoring other state aid guidelines under ‘risk and crisis management’, which specifically provide for ‘aid to compensate for damage to agricultural production’,” Sweetman pointed out.
“The Minister has been consistent in not recognising that the forestry industry is in crisis.
"The appalling treatment of farmers who are affected by ash dieback has been one of the most critical causes of the current lack of interest in planting among farmers,” he maintained.
“If this country is to meet its climate change commitments, the Minister should be searching for ways to restore confidence in the sector rather than pulling the rug from under farmers who have seen their investment in forestry wiped out through no fault of their own,” Sweetman said.
A farmer who has experienced ash dieback first-hand is Derek McCabe, chair of the North East Forestry Group.
McCabe is now “replacing trees with saplings” and had lost 20 years of growth and investment due to ash dieback.
“I’m now back to day one. My trees have been growing for more than 20 years and it’ll be another 20 years before my forest is restored to where it was before the disease struck,” the Cavan forestry owner explained.
'Cannot make an income'
“Until then, I cannot make an income from that land, but I will still have to invest time and money on vegetation control, pruning the new trees and general upkeep,” McCabe said.
“If the Minister wishes to show his commitment to the government policy of supporting the forestry sector, he needs to find a method to properly compensate forest owners,” Sweetman maintained.
“EU regulations allow for ‘aid to make good the damage caused by natural disasters or exceptional occurrences’. The State needs to step up and recognise that these circumstances are exceptional,” he insisted.