Young farming couples interested in planting land to provide 'pension funds' are among the hundreds currently attending a series of Teagasc forestry clinics.
Huge interest in afforestation and the tax benefits of planting land have resulted in Teagasc's series of 38 nationwide clinics being oversubscribed. Teagasc is now planning to add extra dates to cope with the unforeseen demand.
Teagasc forestry expert Steven Meyen said there had been a sea change in the approach to forestry among landowners in recent years.
"The questions we are being asked have changed from 'how much will I receive in annual premium payments if I planted this land?' to 'how can I incorporate forestry as an enterprise on my farm?'," said Mr Meyen.
Mr Meyen said he had large numbers of young farmers aged 30-35 attending the clinics in the northwest.
"They are thinking of their farm as a business and asking how forestry can maximise their income," he explained.
"We also have young farming couples who are wondering how they can use forestry as a pension fund for 30-40 years' time."
The Teagasc specialist added that both young and older farmers were interested in developing forestry plantations as a tangible asset that could be transferred to the next generation.
"They are more focused on finding out how forestry could benefit them and their children further down the line," he said.
A typical conifer plantation in the northwest yields around €427/ha (€173/ac) in tax-free annual premium payment, while forestry plantations on better land, incorporating broadleaves, typically yield annual premia of €481/ha (€195/ac).
At current timber prices, a mature conifer plantation harvested after 35-40 years would yield around €7,000-9,000/ac. Timber produced on private forestry plantations is not subject to income tax.
Mr Meyen said many older farmers were also interested in planting forestry on out-farms.
"I have had queries from farmers getting on in age who want to cut down on their work and decide to keep the better land or land closer to home for their animals and want to plant outlying or wet farmland," he said.
Meanwhile, a recent Macra na Feirme study found that 27pc of farmers without an identified successor for their farm would consider planting their land under forestry when they could no longer farm at their current level.
More than 500 people are expected to attend the nationwide series of clinics and extra dates are being added.
For the latest information on new events, go to www.teagasc.ie/forestry or contact your local Teagasc office.