Broadening forestry horizons for farmers

Forestry planting will be crucial to cutting agriculture's carbon emissions and farmers are increasingly opting for broadleaf and agroforestry

A maturing ash plantation in Co Laois: forestry agencies are encouraging farmers to grow more broadleaf and native woodland plantations. Photo: Alf Harvey
A maturing ash plantation in Co Laois: forestry agencies are encouraging farmers to grow more broadleaf and native woodland plantations. Photo: Alf Harvey
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

There are approximately 770,000 hectares of forest in Ireland with 51pc in state ownership and managed by Coillte.

The other 49pc is owned by about 20,000 private forest owners and according to Steven Meyen, Forestry Development Department Teagasc, more than four out of every five private forest owners are farmers.

"The share of private forests continued to increase since the late 1980s, mainly due to attractive afforestation grants. As a result, half of all farm forests are less than 25 years of age."

The latest timber production forecast from COFORD shows that production is set to double from four million cubic metres currently to about eight million cubic metres by 2035. Nearly all this increase will come from private (mainly farm) forests.

On-farm wood fuel sources

Besides the ubiquitous conifer plantations, farmers are now increasingly growing broadleaves such as sycamore or alder, says Steven Meyen.

"'Scrub' on the farm may well turn out to be a valuable native woodland that with appropriate close-to-nature management can generate a sustainable source of wood fuel.

"Old and neglected hazel coppice can also be revitalised and brought back into production, thereby providing another income stream. A modern take on the traditional hazel coppice is fast-growing willow short rotation coppice producing very large amounts of wood chip."

Agroforestry combines the growing of trees with grazing or crops in the same field. "This can be another excellent source of wood fuel on the farm. And finally - last but not least - we have good, old-fashioned, well-managed hedgerows. This traditional Irish take on agroforestry can produce large amounts of wood fuel sustainably."

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Hedges, he says, provide many benefits on the farm: they are a cost-effective alternative to wire fences while providing additional benefits such as valuable shelter to livestock and crops.

Financial support

The grant to establish a conifer or broadleaf forest on the farm tends to cover the cost of establishment and early management, adds Steven.

"In addition, you're also entitled to an annual payment ranging from €510/ha/yr to €660/ha/yr, payable for 15 years. The rate depends on the type of land, the type of trees and the acreage planted.

"Rather than focusing on the production of a commercial conifer (or broadleaf) timber crop, you can also choose to establish a new native woodland.

"Not only will an ecologically rich, biodiverse woodland be created but it also presents opportunities for planting in various environmentally sensitive areas such as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs)."

Establishing a native woodland will provide you with higher annual payments of €665-680/ha/yr for 15 years, he says.

"If you decide to go for agroforestry then the annual payment will range from €645/ha/yr to €660/ha/yr for a period of five years.

"Support is also available for the growing of trees such as eucalyptus and poplar to produce woody biomass over a short period of time (e.g. 10 to 15 years). The annual payment comes to €510-520/ha/yr for a 15-year period."


Thinning is an essential operation to produce quality broadleaf timber, points out Steven. "A grant of €750/ha is available under the Woodland Improvement Scheme to carry out a thinning operation for the first time. A subsequent grant of €500/ha is also available to carry out a second thinning operation.


If you need to get wood out of your forest then you will need to construct a road or at least a bellmouth with loading area. A attractive grant of €40 per linear metre is available to a maximum density of 25 metres per hectare.

Supply options

Fuel wood can be processed into firewood, wood chip, wood pellets or charcoal, explains Steven and the easiest option is to sell a lorry load of unprocessed fuel wood.

"But, you could also add value by processing it into wood fuel. Several farmers around the country have invested in a firewood processor or wood chipper. Instead of selling fuel wood, they are now selling wood fuel."

Another attractive alternative, he says, is not to sell but to use the wood to heat your home.

"By processing your own wood and installing a wood boiler at home, you can reduce your heating bills greatly. With excellent on-farm supply and enterprise opportunities it is clear from the above that future wood fuel supplies will come mainly from farms."

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