Small outlying farms can be a hindrance as well as a help. Anyone who has to travel daily to check on livestock or move them to and from land that is perhaps 10 miles from their home farm will know what I mean.
Even if the land is in tillage, tractors and other equipment have to travel and all this takes up valuable time and creates extra expense.
Any farm, outlying or otherwise, is of course a wonderful asset to own, but many farmers are now looking at perhaps consolidating their enterprises and concentrating more on their core operations.
This can often prove more profitable in the long run and is the reason why some have opted to either let the land or plant it with trees.
This especially applies to situations where none of the children are interested in farming and are pursuing alternative careers.
I was prompted to write on this subject having read a number of interesting articles on property in Britain, which stated how increasing numbers of city-based people there are seeking to purchase woodland.
There are multiple reasons cited for this where some, given the current low interest rates and the uncertainty of currencies, are looking for a safe haven for their savings. Others are seeking additional pension funding for when they retire.
What is really driving the market in these relatively small parcels is, however, the increasing interest in woods as an amenity to enjoy as well as a potential source of income. More and more urban residents yearn to avail of 'back to nature' breaks and this is especially so with city folk with young children.
They wish to invest some of their earnings in woodland as well as being involved in the management at weekends by camping there and carrying out small tasks while enjoying a good healthy outdoor family break from city life. Anything from five acres upwards is in demand and it is easy to understand why it holds such appeal, especially if you spend most of your life commuting back and forth from one concrete jungle to another.
The Irish economy has improved dramatically over the past decade, with more well-paid jobs now available. Because of this increase in disposable income, people are seeking out safe investments that can also be used as a base for hiking, cycling or just enjoying the peace of the countryside.
It used to be the prerogative of other Europeans to be able to afford buying small pieces of land here and they are, of course, still in the market, but it's the presence of the Irish buyer that has recently driven demand.
This is the future for those small holdings that are too limited in scale to appeal to commercial forestry interests. Such farms are, of course, more desirable if located in a relatively scenic location, with rivers and lakes nearby and within two hours' drive of a city.
In a small country like Ireland, with our great network of motorways, driving times have dramatically reduced so virtually anywhere comes within that category. Those smart people who have laid out their woods to facilitate tourism are now reaping the rewards from rental of log cabins, glamping or just the provision of basic camping facilities.
What appeals to me most about the concept of planting an outfarm is the prospect of its value in, say, 20 years if one wished to then sell it on. All one has to do is provide the land. The afforestation schemes cover all the other costs of planting, fencing, maintenance and the provision of an internal roadway.
If one could secure planning permission for a simple log cabin, this would greatly widen the scope for future income or eventual sale. For such a project, it would be desirable to plant a carefully thought-out mix of both broadleaves and conifers and think primarily in terms of landscaping rather than just blanket planting of conifers alone.
The premium income from such planting will, in most cases, exceed the current income from conventional farming for the next 15 years and at the end of the period, one has an asset that is rapidly becoming a sought-after luxury. We have to start thinking outside the box and acknowledge society is changing and with these changes come fresh opportunities.
Sticking our heads in the sand and complaining about falling market prices for our main agricultural commodities won't provide for our future well-being.
There are numerous good books available written by people who have purchased or planted small woods and tell how they have enjoyed managing their new asset.
One of my favourites is Badgers, Beeches And Blisters by Julian Evans and Ken Gill, published in 2009 with the assistance of the woodland charity, Crann (I would, of course, recommend it as I wrote the foreword). Originally published in 2006 in Britain, it was so popular, it was decided to do a rewrite to include specifically Irish conditions.
Copies can be obtained from Crann — firstname.lastname@example.org. Others include A Wood Of Our Own, again by Julian Evans who, in 1985, decided to buy his own small wood in North Hampshire, fulfilling every forester’s dream.
Caring for the wood and its wildlife using both ancient and modern skills, he describes the evolving cycle of the seasons and helps us to appreciate our environment first-hand.
Many more are available on the internet, especially from
the US where owning a small wood of one’s own has been popular for centuries, perhaps inspired initially by Henry Thoreau after he wrote the classic Walden.