‘Farmers need to change their mindset on planting trees’

Farmers need to change their mindset so that planting trees is no longer seen as a failure but rather an opportunity to increase the sustainability and profitability of the farm.

This was said by Pat Hennessy from Borris-in-Ossory, at a recent smart farming seminar in Portlaoise recently.

He said that he planted trees on his farm in 1991, having tried everything on the marginal land. The decision was made after visiting a farm in the Slieve Bloom Mountains where the farmer was a pioneer in forestry while carrying on with his suckler and sheep enterprise.

Pat who has a herd of 47 Limousin-cross cows on 110ac, including rented land, said he was won over by the guarantee of income.

“I planted because there were no up-front costs and a 100% establishment grant. There was also an income tax-free premium. My land was suitable and very productive for growing trees,” he said.

However, the attitude at the time was that planting trees was off the wall and that you would only have bushes at the end of the day. Having planted in 1991, I watched it grow from there, with all the upfront costs covered, and my neighbours have now planted their land.

Over the long term, farmers who benefit most from forestry are those who plant on land that is marginal for agriculture but highly productive from a forestry perspective, Pat said.

“There are thousands of hectares that could be planted. We have the fastest growth rate in Europe,” Pat told the gathering.

As well as offering 100% establishment costs, the afforestation and woodland creation scheme offers a 15-year forest premium which, while income tax-free, is liable for USC and PRSI, he said.

Farmers can be paid forest premiums and BP on afforested land, subject to retaining 10% of the eligible area – a minimum of 3ha – in agriculture, said Pat.

Good management

It is, he said, a condition of the scheme that the land must remain under forestry and is subject to a replanting order. Good management practice is important, Pat told the seminar.

Farmers are inclined to leave the management of a tree crop but it’s very important that we get to know the trees, particularly Sitka spruce which is the Friesian cow of trees.

“Take time to learn about the crop. Walk your forest regularly to make sure the trees are growing well. Planning is the key to success.”

The timing of thinning operations is very important, said Pat. He recommended that roads be put in 12 months beforehand to let them form properly.

“Talk to other farmers who have thinned. Attend any information or field days about thinning. Get to know the markets and timber prices.

“Know the value of your crop and expected volumes to be harvested. Get a forester to oversee operations,” Pat said.

Carbon sequestration

Payment for carbon sequestration to mitigate climate change is one of the fastest growing global markets, he said.

“Carbon price, which is approximately €26/t, is forecast to quadruple by 2030 in Europe,” he said.

Benefits

The Laois farmer told the gathering that there are many benefits of planting trees. “It diversifies farm income. It creates shelter belts for animals which positively impacts production. It enhances biodiversity on farms.

“It improves drainage and water management. It produces a high value, sustainable and renewable produce. It also improves the carbon balance on farms,” said Pat.

People’s attitudes are changing and farmers should look at planting, he said. “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second best time is now.”

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