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Multiple Benefits of Trees on the Farm

Tom Houlihan, Teagasc Forestry Specialist, tells us how farm forests can provide many benefits

New forest creation is an excellent pathway to develop an attractive and valuable resource on the farm. However, farm forests also provide the pathway for many other farm benefits. These are well captured in the Shared National Vision for Forestry, recently published by Minister of State, Pippa Hackett. This visionary document anticipates that by 2050, Ireland’s forests will be seen as a “key solution to climate, biodiversity, housing and health emergencies of the 2020’s”.

New Forestry Programme 2023-2027

The current DAFM Forestry Programme is in place up to the end of 2022. A new Forest Strategy for 2022-2030 is under development via Project Woodland. It will set out clear objectives for the role of trees and forests in Ireland, with key values identified focusing on forests for climate, nature, wood, people and the economy and rural development. The Forest Strategy will be accompanied by a detailed implementation Plan which will include the new Forestry Programme 2023-2027. The new Programme will aim to be ambitious and provide farm families with attractive opportunities to increase and diversify their income streams on the farm. It will also place a strong emphasis on increasing new forest creation and promoting the use of sustainable timber products.

As part of the Implementation Plan for the new Forest Strategy, the new Forestry Programme is currently going through a legally-required Strategic Environmental Assessment. The public will have opportunity to view and comment on the proposed programme as part of this process.

Whether large or small areas are involved, now is a good time to consider the benefits of trees on your farm and Teagasc can help you in this regard. When new broadleaf, conifer and mixed forests are planted, government grants cover the main start-up costs while attractive annual payments are available for several years for all approved applicants. Farmers and landowners may also select from a range of forest species. Planting the “right trees in the right places” can also facilitate ombinations of suitable forest types to achieve future objectives and deliver many benefits.

James Doran, Teagasc Advisor caught up with John Casey, Forestry Specialist, Teagasc at #Ploughing2022 to find out more about what role forestry can play for farms at the moment. Forestry can deliver any number of things for farmers - climate, people, wood, rural development, all depends on the combination of trees and where you plant them.

A timber resource

Every day of our lives, we make great use of timber from our forests. A beech floor or an oak table are things of great beauty. Irish-grown hardwoods are an excellent resource; they take a long time to mature and benefit from careful management.

Commercial conifer species also have a strong role to play and provide multiple applications in our everyday lives. Their uses range from pallets and packaging to timber fencing, roofing, timber frames, decking and wood pellets. Quality wood pellets, wood chip and firewood are a green, renewable source of heat displacing fossil fuels. As a result, Irish forestry contributes significantly to the economy, supporting numerous jobs, with many in rural Ireland.

Carbon benefits

Sustainably creating, growing and managing our forests can deliver multiple carbon benefits. As trees grow, they absorb carbon dioxide. On average, one hectare of forest can lock up between 1 and 10 tonnes of CO2 per annum, depending on factors such as species, soil type, growth rate and forest management approach. When the trees are sustainably harvested and used to make wood products, the carbon remains stored in the wood for the life of those products. One cubic meter (m3) of processed wood can store up to 900kg of CO2 equivalent. The National Vison perceives forestry at the centre of the circular and green economy, with Irish grown timber the material of choice for the substitution of carbon intensive building materials for new Irish homes.

Water and biodiversity benefits

Trees growing near water are riparian woodlands. They can efficiently intercept nutrients and silt from various sources before reaching our watercourses. Riparian woods also stabilise riverbanks, regulate water temperatures and provide a food source for aquatic life. They can be incorporated on farms as natural solutions on the farm to protect and enhance water quality.

Forests provide habitats for a wide range of flora and fauna. Fragmented habitats have some ecological value but when connected together, through tree planting and/or woodland creation, the benefits greatly increase, allowing plants and animals to travel and spread across the Irish countryside.

Forests and recreation

Forests enhance the landscape and provide us with special outdoor places to visit and enjoy. They also provide the ideal educational resource in which to learn about and appreciate the environment. Forests are a close-to-home natural resource that offer an escape from the “daily grind”; allowing us to re-connect with nature.  Did you know, a survey found that the main psychological wellbeing benefit for visitors to Irish forests was mental relaxation?

Visit us at the National Ploughing!

The National Vision for Forestry perceives “a rich variety of diverse, resilient and healthy trees, woods and forests, established for multiple purposes and delivering multiple benefits for the environment, economy and society”. Teagasc Forestry Development Department staff are available to address your forestry research, advisory and training needs. Why not call to us at the Teagasc stand during the National Ploughing (Block 3, Row 17, Stand 282), or contact us directly at any time,  to find out about our latest research and to get answers to all your questions on farm forestry. You can also visit our forestry section on the Teagasc website for easy access to comprehensive information.