Farm forests deliver many benefits

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Forestry

More and more landowners are converting their holdings to forestry, statistics show

Over the past twenty-five years 23,000 landowners (83% farmers) have converted some of their land to forestry, creating a sustainable and complementary farm resource.

Well planned and sustainably-managed forests can provide commercial environmental and recreational opportunities.

There are many attractive planting options and models available for farmers and landowners, each with significant potential to deliver according to specific needs.

As well as providing a resource to protect and enhance the local environment, forestry has a significant role to play in enhancing farm viability, optimising the use of marginal land, facilitating tax efficiency and assisting in retirement planning.

Farm Income

There are clear opportunities for trees and forests work very well as part of the farming mix.
Forestry can compliment drystock, dairying, tillage and other enterprises to the overall benefit of the farm. It provides a highly productive land use option for marginal land, fragmented parcels or out farms; creating a valuable growing asset for the future.

Research by Teagasc shows that significant gains from planting may be generated on marginal land. Planting 8 ha of 15% diverse conifer/broadleaf forest on marginal land delivers an annual forestry premium of over €4,000 for 15 years.

The potential payment can increase to over €5,300 per annum if planting of Native Woodland meets the landowner’s objectives.

By meeting the required criteria, the Basic Payment can also be retained on the planted land and the forest is appreciating in value as the tree develop.

Realising Carbon Benefits

Forests are effective at mitigating climate change through sequestration of carbon by tree growth and carbon storage in soils, tree stems, roots and ground litter. Carbon sequestration by forests can improve farm sustainability while also contributing to our future national abatement effort.

Ireland has the potential to play a significant role in mitigating climate change through the management of current forest and the establishment of new forests.

These new forests can embrace the positive benefits associated with both fast and slower growing trees to sequester carbon, provide jobs to rural communities, provide income for farmers and create new sheltered habitats for animals and plants.

As well as these carbon benefits associated with forests, there are a number of other positive influences that trees can provide to the wider environment.

Forests can intercept vast amounts of rainfall and release it slowly through the soils providing infiltration into rivers or nearby groundwater. This can help surrounding plants and wildlife as a source of water for growth and photosynthesis. Absorbed water is also transpired into the atmosphere where it can be carried by the wind to fall as rain in other locations.

Protecting Water Quality

Landowners play an essential role as custodians of the natural landscape and resources.

The recent Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine ‘Woodlands for Water’ publication explores the appropriate afforestation measures to create a resource that can help to protect water quality.

The establishment of new native woodlands combined with undisturbed water setbacks can deliver services that protect and enhance water quality and aquatic ecosystems.

Even a limited area of woodland near watercourses (riparian woodland) can become a protective, enhancing and visually attractive resource on the farm, without reducing enterprise productivity.

Enhancing Biodiversity

All forests contribute significantly to biodiversity, both within their boundaries as corridors for wildlife and as refuges in the wider landscape.

Areas for Biodiversity Enhancement are incorporated into all new forests. They conserve existing habitats and biodiversity features while promoting further diversity.

A minimum of 15% broadleaf component is also required on all new planting sites along with up to a further 15% retained for biodiversity enhancement.

Forest management planning also affords the opportunity to enhance future biodiversity in our forests, to provide benefits to society and additional income to farmers or land owners.

Forestry is a sustainable option for marginal and fragmented land offering economic, environmental and societal benefits.

Forest design, scale and good management are critical to maximising crop quality, timber value and environmental contribution.

Forest establishment grants cover the cost of planting and offer a secure long term income for the subsequent 15 years through annual premiums.

For more information on the many benefits delivered by a farm forest, contact your local Teagasc forestry advisor or alternatively log onto the informative Teagasc website, www.teagasc.ie/forestry.