Forestry and farming could go hand in hand

The Programme for Government potential

June 26, 2020

Programme for Government – an assessment of the forestry potential within.

The proposed programme for government (PFG) may have some commitment by Saturday 27th June. If this PFG has accord between the 3 proposed parties, the suggestion is that forestry, as part of the agriculture brief, will be given considerable attention.

For too long, forestry has been seen through a narrow lens, an industry and crop that is in competition to ‘traditional’ farming activities. We see it as very much a complementary activity. The new government has a unique opportunity to reshape the agricultural landscape to address the climate issues through carbon reduction and capture for a longer term solution. Within the PFG document, there is a dedicated Forestry section that addresses many of the concerns. Quoting directly from the PFG we see that there are plans to • “…Incorporate afforestation into the new CAP to provide incentives for farmers to plant woodland on their farms, acting as a carbon store, helping to promote wildlife corridors, and providing a future fuel source for the household. • Actively promote and support farm forestry/rewilding options that do not impact on agricultural production and support biodiversity and habitat creation. We will incentivise, the option of small-scale (e.g. one hectare) forestry/rewilding.

These two points of action could potentially conflict with one another and lead farmers to choose the ‘easier’ option of planting 1 hectare of land. Land that may be low value, has a low productivity rate and is inaccessible. The 1 hectare of planting will add very little to our carbon challenge or to afforestation rates and national forestry cover (less than 11% versus European average of 33%). The former suggestion, where farmers are to be incentivised to establish woodlands on their farm is an opportunity that could address so many prevalent issues around agriculture, afforestation, environmental concerns and future timber supply. It should incorporate all aspects of the clean environment program, addressing water quality, farm emissions and run offs and look at the broad opportunity for providing real value and material to local and commercial timber users. For example, farmers should be encouraged to establish woodlands on their farm and the area under trees should be relatively significant. Recently, we looked at the average beef farm earnings over the last 10 years and compared that to the potential earnings from adding forestry into their crop management.

The graphs highlight the financial benefit to a farming family of planting a percentage of their farm holding with forestry (this is based on average size cattle farm number from the Teagasc National Farm survey and applying the average forest are as planted by Green Belt over the same period). So, let’s consider the positive impact that establishing 7 hectares of poplar on a ‘typical’ farm could bring. Firstly, it is a hardwood and adds biodiversity to the planting species nationally. It is an attractive tree, and would enhance the visual aspect of a farm – the trees could be planted as a 40 meter wide perimeter on the farm estate. Secondly, the trees would provide a valuable, natural and sustainable buffer for farm fun offs. The root structure would capture much of the run off and utilise the nutrients within the run off to increase the yield of the trees. Environmentally, the woodland significantly addresses the watercourse issues, also a topic covered in the PFG as well as habitat protection and enhancement. The trees would provide an income to the farmer in the form of annual premiums (€510 per hectare per annum i.e. €3,570 for 7 hectares) and also the harvested crop after 15 years (Estimated at €91,000 for 7 hectares). The crop would be coppiced so there is no replanting costs and the roots will retain the carbon stored as there will be no replanting works excavating/ cultivating the soil.

From the Teagasc National Farm Survey on downloadable pdf

Concentrating on farms that are producing less than the annual premium payment per hectare per annum, we can see an average of 7 hectares per farm will increase the annual earning per hectare for the farmer as well as increasing the national forestry cover by more than 400,000 hectares.

A Mature Poplar stand, with stems suitable for veneer production (image included in pdf). Much of the carbon stored in the timber harvested will be stored long term as it will be used in veneer production and biomass use. The veneer panels will have a 30+ year life term in construction, both locally and abroad. A rough estimate of the carbon sequestered by the trees during their lifetime and not including the longer term retention in processed material, is 7 X 15 X 3 = 315 tonnes of carbon for an average holding planting 7 hectares. There is a further opportunity within this plan to actively promote the utilisation of biochar on the farm and in the in-farm planting programme. The positive impact of biochar would see a 9 times increase in the efficacy of any fertiliser applied – including the run off from a dairy farm for example. It stores carbon for millennia; it is a one time only application and it can act as natures filter for the land and water nearby. The intrinsic benefit from the application of enriched biochar is the improved grass yield per hectare – meaning smaller herd numbers. Which, again, can have a positive bearing on dairy farmers operations. The above hypothesis can be made for Native woodlands, Sitka Spruce and so on. The traditional method of assessing forestry and new planting, as well as end markets for the harvested and processed material, is changing and will continue to do so. The bioeconomy is looming large on the horizon and needs to be fully embraced as part of the Irish solution. Within the framework of the PFG, there are clear lines of association between forestry, forestry resources, timber and related by products and the removal, replacement and substitution of fossil fuels from our industries and society. A collaborative approach to creating a circular economy is proposed within the framework for government. The topics highlighted below all offer expansive opportunities within the private forestry sector to encourage, associate, develop and enhance its position alongside the agricultural industry in Ireland. Regulation Driving Climate Action Waste and a Circular Economy Action Plan Climate Action Fund Flagship Environmental Scheme Land Use Review Organic Farming Scheme

Green Belt continues to pioneer in our sector and will continue to do so for our clients – existing and ones we are yet to meet. The future is positive. The future is Green. The future is yours.