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'I have no regrets about planting forestry' - 70-cow dairy farmer


Donal McCarthy (left) in his forestry plantation.

Donal McCarthy (left) in his forestry plantation.

Donal McCarthy (left) in his forestry plantation.

Donal McCarthy is a progressive dairy farmer based in scenic Ballydehob in West Cork. His overall holding is almost 103 hectares.

Donal's dairy enterprise is concentrated on a fertile platform of 27ha surrounding the farmyard, sustaining a herd of 70 dairy cows.

The remaining land is located in out-farms. Donal was one of the earliest farmers to join REPS over 23 years ago. He is also currently in GLAS.

In 2009, Donal considered what to do with 11ha of marginal land located 13km from the main farm. Knowledge is the key to informed decision making for Donal.

He considered the location of this land, the cost of reclaiming land with heavy soils and the subsequent returns from farming.

Donal researched various options. The benefits of forestry became evident. The land is close to existing productive forestry. Afforestation grants would cover planting costs.

An annual tax-free premium of €427 per hectare would be available over 20 years. In addition to this, his land, if forested, would meet the required criteria and be eligible to draw down the Single Farm Payment and subsequently the Basic Payment.

The tax-free nature of forest premia coupled with the future timber sales were seen by Donal as strong advantages.

He decided that forestry was the right option for him and the 11ha were planted in March 2010 by forester Alan Farrelly of Greenbelt, mainly with commercial forest species combined with additional broadleaves for biodiversity and landscaping purposes.

Five years later, Donal went on to plant a further 27ha on another parcel located 10km from his main farm. This is also a commercial forestry venture with a 10pc inclusion of alder, a native broadleaf species.

His more recent forest enterprise provides him with similar attractive payments, €510/ha on the majority of the plantation paid over 15 years.

The reasons for his decision to afforest were similar to those that convinced Donal to proceed with his earlier planting in 2010. The potential costs of land improvement measures would have been significant.

Donal says: "I could have spent over €100,000 on reclamation but would still have land with lower income generating capacity for conventional farm enterprises". He went on to say that his capacity to draw down the BPS payment and forest premia on the same land parcels is a great advantage.

The positive experience of his previous forestry venture and seeing his forest premium appear in his bank account each January provided a powerful incentive to plant again.

Donal is one of the 30pc of forest owners who, over the last 10 years, have gone on to plant at least a second time following their initial planting decision. He is very happy with his decision to plant and says he "has no regrets whatsoever".

In addition to attractive premium income, he is very aware of the potential of well managed forestry to provide a secure pension plan, which he can control himself.

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