THE first hay has been made from agroforestry land in Ireland – and it was in West Cork.
It was on the farm of forward thinking Willie and Avril Allshire of Caherbeg, Rosscarbery, of the award-winning Rosscarbery Recipes who say it’s the perfect example of the flexibility of agroforestry.
Willie has always been a ‘tree man’ and planted his ditches, ungranted, back in 2012.
But his first major foray into agroforestry (essentially the practice of combining forestry and productive farmland in a beneficial way) was around 2015 when he invested in a 24.75 acre, 19-year-old forest beside his home place.
‘I bought a further 17 acres beside that again, two or three years ago, and planted 15 acres of it in December 2018 – around 3,200 native trees, mainly birch and sycamore, which yielded a crop of hay this year.’
He admits the crop wasn’t something he was certain of achieving, but using smaller, more old-fashioned machinery, it was a success.
And now empowered by the success he has further innovative plans to run his pigs around the trees (which are fenced until they mature) where they will clean up briars etc as well as, uniquely, putting hens in there where they’ll benefit from the shade.
Ireland has the lowest forestry cover in Europe – second only to the Netherlands – and despite financial incentives to embrace agroforestry, the uptake here has been relatively slow.
Establishment grants include €6,200 per hectare for agroforestry planting and maintenance, followed by €645 per hectare in premiums for five years.
A separate Forestry for Fibre scheme offers establishment and maintenance grants of €3,815 per hectare, and premiums of €520 per hectare for 15 years. These payments are in addition to the single farm payment.
There’s been a reluctance by farmers to use prime slots for planting, despite a concerted drive by the likes of Teagasc to educate on the flexibility of agroforestry; the ability to graze around trees, and make hay or silage.
However, that is likely to change after 2020, when CAP payments will come with environmental conditionality and Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has said farmers will have to plant some of their land with trees, if Ireland is to avoid multimillion-euro fines for carbon emissions.
Liam Beechinor from Lyre was one of the first farmers to embrace agroforestry in West Cork and for years he has successfully mixed sheep and trees.
Willie, now another shining example in this sector, said: ‘Agroforestry is still very new to the south of Ireland but I’d have no hesitation in recommending it. It would suit sheep farmers very well.’
Two neighbouring farmers have been inspired by his move and have also planted fields.
‘They’ve got the bug now as well,’ said Willie.
An agroforestry plot at Loughgall in Co Armagh is one of the country’s oldest. Its owner recently visited the Allshires with some 50 members of the Historical Agricultural Society of Ireland and fully endorsed what they were doing, describing them as a ‘star of agroforestry.’
The Allshires are also part of the very successful West Cork Farm Tours, and the agroforestry work will enhance their offering.
Going forward, Willie never plans to level his forest, something he feels strongly against.
‘I’m very committed to this way of farming,’ he said, adding that the changed landscape of Caherbeg, the result of his work, would be his legacy.