Some 20,000 farmers are involved in forestry enterprises and this means more than half of Ireland’s forests are now privately owned and the majority by farmers. This is according to Stephen Meyen, forestry advisor for Teagasc in the North West.

Forestry is a viable land use option for many farmers across Ireland, he said, and the strong demand for appointments at Teagasc’s advisor clinic indicates this growing enterprise.

Speaking to AgriLand, he explained: “We would encourage farmers not to put all their eggs in one basket. There are huge benefits in forestry even if farmer’s land is easy to farm or if the land is difficult, forestry is always an option and we encourage farmers to consider this.”

The advantages are firstly environmental, Meyen noted.

“It will give more shelter to animals that will make them happy and it will add carbon footprints to your farm. Everyone is looking up carbon footprints when they order their steak and forestry farming can add to that criteria.”

In terms of economic advantageS, he said the forestry grants from the Department of Agriculture are very attractive. 

“It is starting an enterprise with no outlay of money. You get payment on the first years you plant. The annual payment currently ranges on average €170/ha per year for 20 years as a forestry farmer. If you look after those trees, the timber prices are attractive and it will bring a very attractive income.”

The Teagasc forestry expert said word of mouth was key. “When farmers can see their neighbour making a return out of forestry that is spreading the word and the interest.”

He also cautioned that it was a long-term enterprise.

“If farmers are looking to get rich and famous over the next five years with forestry then they should forget about it. They need to take a long-term view and with that it proves very attractive.”

In terms of the new Common Agricultural Policy and Rural Development Programme, he noted that new supports are on the cards but the rules may change.

“The current forestry regulations run until the end of June and then new regulations come in. There will be continued attractive forestry grants but the rules may change. We understand that the annual premium may change to 12 years instead of 20 years. There is also a look at changing the definition of a farmer and non-farmer, so we will have to wait and see.”

Such is the high interest by farmers that Teagasc forestry advisor clinics have increased from 39 to 49 this year.

“We are expecting a high turnout. Last year we estimated an attendance of 250 farmers and land-owners and more than 600 people so we are expecting huge interest.”

There will be 49 clinics in total and they will be held around the country between 20-31 January.

The advisory clinics are also open to existing forest owners who may wish to discuss forest management issues or obtain practical advice on management, thinning and marketing timber.

As the clinics involve a one-to-one discussion with a Teagasc forestry development officer, anyone interested in attending must make an appointment in advance. Contact your local Teagasc office as soon as possible to arrange a suitable time.

Pictured Steven Meyen, Teagasc