The forestry sector will see investment of €482m as the Department of Agriculture secures State Aid approval for the new Forestry Programme covering the period 2014-2020.

According to the Department this follows a long and detailed process of negotiation with the European Commission, culminating in a meeting between Minister Tom Hayes and the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan to resolve the remaining issues.

Highlights of the Programme include plans for 44,000ha of new forests, some 700km of new forest roads and 20% higher premium payments.

It should also, the Department says, mean new species with rotations of 10-15 years as well as the planting of more native trees.

Welcoming the approval, Minister Hayes commented that the new Forestry Programme will involve a commitment of €482m.

“This scale of investment will have a real impact in rural communities right across Ireland and it will go a long way towards achieving the Government’s aim for balanced regional development.”

The new programme introduces a number of important structural and design changes, he said.

“Restructuring forestry schemes so that they present real options for landowners in terms of generating alternative sources of income has been an important objective of my Department and one which was factored into the design of the programme from the outset.”

These changes will prove attractive to those landowners not previously interested in forestry, the Department says.

The new agro forestry and forestry for fibre measures are targeted specifically at farmers providing them with options for grazing livestock alongside forestry and in the case of forestry for fibre, harvesting timber after 10-15 years rather than 30-40 years as is the case with other types of forestry.