By Brian Moore
FARMERS in West Cork are being urged to consider trees as ‘just another crop’ and plant them as part of their future farm enterprise.
At a forestry conference in Rosscarbery this week, organised by the Forestry Owners Co-operative Society, chairman Tim McCarthy said that forestry in Ireland is entering a new phase and that there needs to be an increase in planting across the country.
‘At the moment Ireland has the lowest plantation coverage in Europe at a mere 11% but the future looks bright with CAP proposals and new initiatives coming down the path,’ Tim said.
‘That is why the Forestry Owners Cooperative Society is organising a programme of information and training to promote and offer support to farmers who may be thinking about getting into forestry and to those who have well-established plantations.’
However, many of the farmers present at the conference were disappointed that Agriculture Minister Michael Creed, who was scheduled to speak at the conference, did not attend due to ongoing Brexit negotiations.
Opening the conference, forestry consultant Patrick Ryan urged farmers to consider planting trees not only for the future economic gain but as a way of combating climate change and encouraging the growth of bio-diversity.
‘Farmers are used to growing crops, grass for silage, wheat, barley, turnips and so on. Trees are just another crop and need to be looked after just as any farmer would look after the grass or the cattle on his or her land,’ Patrick said.
‘In Ireland, private forestry ownership is only 30 years old and the value of our forestry resource between the state owned Coillte forestry and the private plantations is €2.3bn a year and this is set to double.’
The area of forest is estimated to be 770,020 ha or 11% of the total land area of Ireland and in county Cork there are 90,020 ha (12.1% land coverage) of forestry.
However, government policy is to increase the country’s forestry to between 13% to 16% of land coverage over the next decade.
Minister Creed recently announced that 440 million trees will be planted in Ireland by 2040. The target is for 70% conifers, sika spruce and Scotch pine and 30% broad leaf varieties such as oak, ash and beech. About 22 million trees will have to be planted every year to achieve this target.
The afforestation scheme grant aid provides the initial capital for farmers to start planting in the majority of cases.
The annual premium will provide an income for a 15-year period in lieu of income foregone from farming or renting the land. Farmers and forest owners who take an active role in managing their own forest invariably achieve better returns.
Patrick added: ‘Farmers like trees and they are the guardians of the environment, and forestry is an option for every farmer. If a farmer wants to get into forestry then he knows that there is a difference he or she can make.
‘Forestry is a legacy issue and is part of the future of agriculture in Ireland. Farmers want to be able to see a bright future for their farms and their families and forestry is a key component in ensuring that future.’