More than 300 farmers, agricultural experts and policymakers virtually attended the first annual agroforestry conference earlier this week.
In association with the Irish Agroforestry Forum, National Organic Training Skillnet (NOTS) co-organised the event.
RTÉ and Ear to the Ground’s Ella McSweeney hosted the two-day event from The Hive in Carrick-on-Shannon on Monday, April 12th and Tuesday, April 13th.
Expert speakers from Ireland and the UK presented their experience and knowledge of existing, established agroforestry systems and what can be done in the future.
Farmers, academics, and experts elaborated on agroforestry’s benefits and discussed issues (both positive and negative) on their journeys in agroforestry. All presentations were followed by live Q&A sessions, where the virtual viewers put their queries to the speakers.
Core elements of the conference focused on how trees can be integrated onto farms, adding farm viability rather than reducing.
According to organisers, agroforestry extolls the benefits of trees on farms and can keep farmers on the land working in tandem with growing trees.
The conference showcased research demonstrating that agroforestry can enhance production through extended grazing seasons, recycling nutrients, and reduced poaching – as outlined on Gavin Lynch’s dairy farm in Wicklow.
On Gavin’s farm, dairy cattle graze under commercial hazelnut trees. He has found that this practice reduces poaching and gives earlier turnout and later autumn grazing.
Conference organiser and NOTS manager Sean McGloin extolled the benefits of agroforestry.
“Agroforestry is probably the one element of trees in agriculture that truly benefits farmers and society as it has the potential to increase farm incomes beyond current farming practices while simultaneously mitigating climate change.”
The conference served as the launchpad for the Irish Agroforestry Forum. The new initiative consists of a group of farmers, academics and policymakers from across Ireland. It aims to increase trees on farms through education, information provision and policy design.
Key Forum members spoke at the conference, including Eugene Curran (Dept of Agriculture), Ian Short (Teagasc), Dr Jim McAdam (Queens University), Imogen Rabone (Trees on the Land), and practising farmers including Clive Bright, Gavin Lynch, William Considine, and John Duffy.
The National Training Fund funds Skillnet Ireland through the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.