Putting down roots: how to get started in forestry

Out­lines the prac­ti­cal sup­ports and grant aid avail­able for farm­ers con­sid­er­ing plant­ing part of their land with forestry

Irish Independent - Farming - - FORESTRY - Steven Meyen

OVER the last two weeks, Tea­gasc ran it largest ever na­tion­wide se­ries of Forestry Ad­vi­sory Clin­ics. Judg­ing from the large num­ber of peo­ple who availed of this op­por­tu­nity to have a oneto-one con­sul­ta­tion with an ex­pe­ri­enced forestry ad­viser, many farm­ers are con­sid­er­ing how forestry can make their farms more vi­able.

So, where do you start? Your first port of call should be your lo­cal Forestry Ad­viser. He or she will be able to give you ob­jec­tive an­swers to many ques­tions.

GRANT AID EL­I­GI­BIL­ITY

The first ques­tion that needs to be an­swered is if your land is el­i­gi­ble for forestry grant aid. This de­pends on a wide range of fac­tors.

What is the soil, ex­po­sure or drainage like? There is a sim­ple rule of thumb re­gard­ing soil suit­abil­ity. Trees are like ‘over­sized’ grass: the bet­ter the land, the bet­ter it will grow grass and there­fore the bet­ter it will grow trees.

If the land grows grass very well and is very shel­tered, then broadleaves can be con­sid­ered. If the grass is poor to fair, then it will have to be conifers.

If the land doesn’t grow grass well then the land may be ex­cluded from forestry grant aid — this ap­plies par­tic­u­larly in ar­eas grow­ing mainly heather.

Var­i­ous des­ig­na­tions such as Spe­cial Ar­eas of Con­ser­va­tion, Fresh Wa­ter Pearl Mus­sel catch­ment ar­eas, ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites, etc. may also have an in­flu­ence on your ap­pli­ca­tion.

Other re­stric­tions in­clude elec­tric­ity lines, nearby houses or the pres­ence of deer must also be taken into ac­count.

YOUR OB­JEC­TIVES

Once you have es­tab­lished that the land is likely to be el­i­gi­ble for forestry grant aid, then the next ques­tion that needs to be an­swered is what you want from your for­est? That is a ques­tion that only you can / should an­swer.

If you want to grow a tree crop on the farm with a de­cent fi­nan­cial re­turn then you should con­sider plant­ing (mainly) Sitka spruce. It grows fast and nat­u­rally straight — ma­tur­ing in 30 to 40 years.

It is able to grow well in less than per­fect con­di­tions, Ir­ish mills are geared up for it and it pro­vides a very de­cent re­turn at the end of the ro­ta­tion.

Young farm­ers are in a great po­si­tion to ben­e­fit from hav­ing forestry on the farm.

Plant­ing a for­est on an out­farm or an awk­ward hill that re­quires a lot of in­puts but very lit­tle re­turn from farm­ing, will pro­vide a very at­trac­tive pen­sion fund 30 to 40 years later.

At the same time, the farmer will get a cash in­jec­tion for the first 15 years while free­ing up time to fo­cus on the more pro­duc­tive ar­eas of the farm.

Keep in mind that no one is telling you to plant com­mer­cial, fast-grow­ing conifers. Maybe you would pre­fer to cre­ate a na- tive wood­land with a very high bio­di­ver­sity value? If so, the fo­cus should be on na­tive species, min­i­mal site dis­tur­bance and long-term ‘close-to-na­ture’ man­age­ment.

This ap­proach also presents op­por­tu­ni­ties for plant­ing in en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive ar­eas such as Spe­cial Ar­eas of Con­ser­va­tion (SACs) and Spe­cial Pro­tec­tion Ar­eas (SPAs).

Other op­tions such as agro­forestry­forestry are also avail­able.

IN­TER­AC­TION WITH OTHER FARM SCHEMES

A ques­tion that needs to be an­swered is what ef­fect es­tab­lish­ing a farm for­est will have on other farm sup­port schemes such as BPS, ANC, GLAS, etc.

For in­stance, you may be able to con­tinue claim­ing the Ba­sic Pay­ment on the af­forested land by meet­ing very spe­cific con­di­tions.

El­i­gi­ble land that was de­clared­clared in an SPS ap­pli­ca­tion in 2008 and which was af­forested in any year since 2009 can con­tinue to be el­i­gi­ble for a BPS pay­ment pro­vided it sat­is­fies a num­ber of con­di­tions.

One of the most im­por­tant con­di­tions is that ap­pli­cants, who plant part of their hold­ing from 2009 on­wards, must re­tain at least 10pc of the el­i­gi­ble hectares de­clared in 2008 in an agri­cul­tural ac­tiv­ity, sub­ject to a min­i­mum area of

PROS AND CONS OF FORESTRY

You are chang­ing land use from agri­cul­ture to forestry and there­fore the Forestry Act 2014 will ap­ply.

This means that af­ter har­vest­ing the tim­ber, you will have a le­gal obli­ga­tion to re-es­tab­lish a for­est. This obli­ga­tion also ap­plies to agro­forestry for in­stance.

You have to re­spect the Forestry Act 2014 (and all other leg­is­la­tion of course) and ad­here to all rel­e­vant grant aid reg­u­la­tions.

It is im­por­tant to keep in mind that you, as the for­est owner, have ul­ti­mate re­spon­si­bil­ity to the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture, Food and the Ma­rine.

I also would strongly ad­vise to in­sure your for­est. In­sur­ance poli­cies may cover loss of tim­ber value, cost of re­plant­ing, fire bri­gade charges, pub­lic li­a­bil­ity and em­ployer’s li­a­bil­ity.

From the above, it is clear that it is es­sen­tial to do your home­work care­fully prior to com­mit­ting your­self. Forestry can be an ex­cel­lent on-farm en­ter­prise.

How­ever, it is a one way street: you need to check out

three hectares.This is in or­der to con­tinue to be re­garded as an ac­tive farmer for the pur­pose of re­tain­ing el­i­gi­bil­ity for BPS.

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