Agroforestry is a way of reducing the environmental footprint of farming without significantly compromising food production, farmers attending the Irish Agroforestry Forum autumn workshop last week were told.

Farmers currently in the agroforestry scheme receive €6,220/ha in grant-aid and over €650/ha of an annual premium for the scheme’s five-year duration.

The event, held at Gurteen College, Co Tipperary, last Friday aimed to highlight the financial and environmental benefits of farming crops or animals in the shelter of trees.

However, as with all afforestation schemes, the switch to agroforestry is a permanent land use change for farmers who choose to take it up. This was something of a concern to farmers at the workshop because once they change the land use they cannot go back.

Attending the event on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, Pamela Boyle told the meeting that this was something the Department would look into and encouraged all farmers to consider the switch.

The Irish Farmers Journal spoke to farmers at Gurteen to find out why they chose to take up agroforestry.

Micheál O’Donovan, Ballinspittle, Co Cork

“I was farming calf-to-beef on a part-time basis on 41ac. I had a hilly piece of land that was no good for anything and too dangerous for the tractor so I looked at the agroforestry.

“Environmentally, it’s the right thing to do but from a commercial farming point of view it gave my marginal land some value. I didn’t want to just put in Sitka spruce and forget about it.

I now have a small flock of sheep and they graze around the trees.”

Réamaí Mathers, Glens of Antrim

“I’m a tree hugger but I’m also passionate about farming. I had sheep and cattle conventionally first and then I got into agroforestry.

“Farmers should look at their land and see if they have wet parts that mightn’t have the length of grazing season that you’d like. It balances out the water table and extends the grazing season by about 12 weeks, so it’s great.

“I look at the south with great envy in terms of CAP supports, we don’t get any in terms of agroforestry.”

Brendan Guinan, Portlaoise, Co Laois

“From just 26ac of agroforestry we are making an income that we can live off and I’m the only 100% biological agroforestry in Ireland.

“I’m from a dairy farm initially but I wanted to farm without chemicals so I bought this 26ac farm.

“I’m in my third year of the agroforestry scheme now and this year I have fattened 48 pigs. I have 80 turkeys for fattening as well as 200 laying hens.

“I also have 25 tonnes to the acre of hardwood firewood for sale. I also do farm walks and social farming.”