Planting part of the farm in trees guarantees a fallback income for years when the going gets tough with your main farming enterprise
Last year was a difficult year for farming. This year is even more challenging. As I am writing this, drought conditions are putting farmers under severe pressure. The last thing on your mind is making a forestry grant application.
But if you bear with me, there is a logic. Forestry on the farm makes your farm more viable: the forestry premium will provide you with a regular long-term cash injection while the growing on-farm asset (pun intended) provides the funds for future farm investment.
I remember meeting a young farmer many years ago. He wasn't very pleased that his father had planted a forest on the farm until he took over from his father and needed cash to build a new shed. The son has since then expanded their on-farm forest enterprise.
Diversification - not putting all your eggs in the one basket - is always the sensible and cautious thing to do.
That's why I think that now is a good time to consider forestry on the farm. It takes time for the application to be assessed. This will allow the tree planting to take place before the end of the winter. It is a good idea to have all the trees planted by the end of March.
On the contrary, if you apply over the winter, approval may come through very late in the planting season.
This in turn will lead to very late planting and is a high risk strategy leading to high tree mortality. I have flagged the danger of late planting on a number of occasions and sadly enough many late (too late?) planting projects will result in high tree mortality this year.
So, where do you start? Well, your first port of call is your local Forestry Adviser.
He or she will be able to indicate if your land is likely to be eligible for forestry grant aid, guide you through the maze of options, their pros and cons, the effect on other farm schemes, explain the various steps in the process and how to ensure that the job gets done right first time. Contact details can be found on www.teagasc.ie/forestry.
Once you understand what is involved and the implications, the next step is to choose a 'Registered Forester'.
This is an important decision as the Registered Forester will act as your agent and make the grant application on your behalf.
If the application is successful and you decide to go ahead; then this person will continue to be involved by coordinating some or all of the work. Registered Foresters work in the private sector, either as consultant foresters or attached to forestry companies.
A list of Registered Foresters is available from your local Forestry Adviser or from www.teagasc.ie/forestry.
How do you choose the 'right' forestry consultant / company? Well, I think it is a good idea to discuss your plans with a number of consultants / companies. This gives them an opportunity to explain to you what they can offer but it is equally important that you explain clearly to them what you have in mind. This will help to avoid misunderstandings later on.
Walk the land in question with each consultant / company and ask for references so that you can visit some of their projects in your area.
It is also a good idea to ask your neighbours about their experience. Make sure that the consultant/company understand how other support schemes interact with forestry. You don't want to lose your BPS payment!
Check if the consultant/company will insure your forest. If not, I would recommend that you take out such insurance yourself.
The next step is to make a forestry grant application. Include any areas you are unsure of in the application. The application process may take a few months.
Once the approval has been issued, you need to decide if you wish to go ahead with establishing a forest on the farm. If you will go ahead, ensure that you have a written contract in place before any work begins. It is also a good idea to refer the contract to your solicitor.
That is why summer is a great time to consider farm forestry: it allows you loads of time to do your homework so that you can make an informed decision.
Forestry on the farm is a great idea; it allows you to keep farming - even in difficult years like this one!
Steven Meyen is a Teagasc forestry advisor; email: firstname.lastname@example.org