Agroforestry is the management and integration of trees, crops and/or livestock on a plot of land.
The combination of forestry and agriculture can be completed in a mutually beneficial way.
What are the benefits of agroforestry?
According to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, there many benefits of agroforestry, including:
- Provides renewable energy, reducing the consumption of fossil fuels;
- Can produce veneer quality timber;
- Improves land drainage;
- Prevents nutrient runoff and reduces sedimentation of nearby watercourses;
- Enhances animal welfare;
- Improves biodiversity and habitats;
- Can enhance the landscape.
Agroforestry can involve pasture, grazing, silage and hay. It is a requirement that the tree stocking rate is between 400-1000 trees per hectare. The minimum plot size is 0.5ha with a tree-to-tree width of 20m.
You will have to thin out trees in time, reducing numbers to between 160-250 trees per hectare. This will allow enough light to filter through the canopy, enabling continued grass growth.
You must protect trees against browsing animals with tree shelters, fencing or both. When producing hay and/or silage, farmers must ensure that they use appropriate machinery to avoid damage to the trees.
While there is a range of benefits to agroforestry, few farmers are interested in the grant scheme.
Farmers have the option to apply for a grant to facilitate the combination of forestry and grassland farming.
This funding is from the agroforestry scheme, under the Afforestation Grant and Premium Scheme. This scheme funding contributes to establishing and maintaining forestry on your farm.
The grant aid is set at €6,220/ha. The DAFM pays premiums over a five-year period at a rate of €645/ha.
What trees are involved?
Oak, sycamore and cherry, including 15% fruit and nut trees, are acceptable species for grant aid. According to Teagasc, you can consider other species on a site-by-site basis.
You should also use large plants through pit planting, ranging from 90cm to 120cm.
Grazing of animals such as sheep or domestic young stock is permitted during spring and summer for the first six to eight years. Once the trees are of sufficient size, you can replace tree shelters with plastic mesh, and you may introduce larger stock.
You can engage in silage and hay production. It is vital that you use appropriate machinery when cutting hay or silage to avoid damage to existing trees.
Agroforestry requires free draining mineral soils. These soils should have no extra requirement for drainage or fertiliser to promote tree growth.
You may have to add Nitrogen to soils in some instances to promote further grass growth.
Teagasc advise a rate of up to 100kg N/ha. However, you have to assess on a site-by-site basis.
Woodland Improvement Scheme
The Woodland Improvement Scheme is another element of agroforestry. The Woodland Improvement Scheme provides financial support to forest owners to help meet the cost of thinning broadleaf forests and broadleaf mixtures.
This scheme will provide two thinning interventions for all broadleaf and broadleaf mixed forests.
Furthermore, this is regardless of whether they are grant-aided or not. The scheme also supports the continuous forestry cover approach to forest management.
Thinning leads to a series of benefits, such as landscape improvement and biodiversity enhancement.
The DAFM pays fixed grant aid at a rate of €750/ha. You must make an application for approval through a registered forester.
Taking a new approach
The future CAP is showing signs which will allow a proportion of land to have scrub and still be eligible as an acre. This has the potential to add an extra 55,000 eligible hectares in the next CAP.
According to ARC2020’s Oliver Moore, Ireland’s current Agroforestry Scheme should ideally be lengthened and broadened. Support for 10 to 15 years is optimal. The current time frame for support is for five years only.
The future of forestry
Developing a new Forestry Strategy is currently underway, which is a key commitment for Project Woodland. The DAFM is due to public this in June 2022.
This project involves a review and refresh of processes and procedures and includes outside stakeholder participation to bring an independent perspective. It is a task-driven process with clear deliverables and milestones.
To conclude, Minister Charlie Mc Conalogue has stated that “trees, forests and woodland are good for the environment when they are established with the right tree, in the right place, for the right reason, with the right management”.
“Getting all that right, required thought and consultation. I am happy that this work is being done by my department, by Project Woodland and by the planned levels of public and stakeholder engagement, will deliver.”
“And I believe that at the end of it we will have firstly a forest strategy, and subsequently, a Forestry Programme which supports all the great things trees can do – for our climate, our levels of biodiversity, our rural economies and of course, our well-being.”