The seemingly unending nature of last winter, coupled with chaos in the policy and market spaces have pushed many farmers to their limit. Livestock were stuck in sheds, fodder got scarce, crops went unsown, and money was tight.

Going into 2025, my guess is many farms will be less focused on production at all costs, and more focused on developing buffers, fallbacks, and contingency plans to mitigate future shocks and protect long term farm viability.

It is often said the most important thing to look after on a farm is the farmer himself or herself. Multiple surveys have found that farmers’ mental health is intimately connected to the weather.

This year felt like a breakthrough year, moving even the staunchest climate holdouts to a position of acceptance. Things have changed. The weather won’t be the same going forward as it has been in the past, and farmers must adapt.

Trees have a role here. I don’t like presenting them as a silver bullet, because they are not. What they can be is a very useful tool if deployed well. Here I have compiled a list of ways they can be used to improve farm resilience.

Financial resilience

Entering into woodland creation schemes can generate a tax-free income of up to €2,284/ha per year, with additional tax benefits related to timber sales, and inheritance.

Going into schemes doesn’t mean giving up great blocks of land. Those days are gone. Now forestry is about integration on areas of ground that are awkward or unprofitable to farm. In many instances this can be done without impacting production. Here in west Clare, I regularly see steep poached-out hillsides or riverbanks where trees could be planted with no trade-offs.

Whilst forestry premiums will contribute immediately to farm income, longer term financial resilience can also be gained through trees. Low-cost bedding material, fuel for biomass burners, and alternative forage can all be sourced from on-farm trees, not to mention high quality timber, albeit perhaps for the next generation.

Trees wick water from sodden soil through transpiration and their roots improve water’s ability to drain through soil.

Additionally, tree canopies intercept a surprisingly large amount of precipitation preventing it from touching the ground in the first place.

Extending the grazing season

Multiple studies have shown integrating trees into pasture systems can extend the grazing season, meaning animals can be out of sheds for longer, with all the associated benefits. Results from Loughgall’s agroforestry trial in Antrim showed a huge 17-week extension to the grazing season for sheep on the farm – five weeks in spring and 12 in autumn.

Another study from Loughgall found improved trafficability on land close to trees. This issue was particularly acute for many just a few weeks back.

Soil experts speak of additional soil benefits relating to hydrology, microbiology, and nutrient cycling.

While the potential will differ from farm to farm, there now exists a body of evidence compelling enough to warrant a few hours of research by any farmer.

Animal health and wellbeing

Animal wellbeing is both a moral concern and a business concern for farmers. Trees are widely acknowledged to provide multiple benefits on this front, particularly in times of extreme weather when they provide both shade and shelter.

Research by Cork ecologist Dr Fiona McAuliffe found reduced lamb loss in upland flocks with access to trees.

This related to both reduced exposure to the elements, and also photosensitisation disease. Last year, I visited a farm participating in Donegal’s Inishowen Uplands EIP who were putting this kind of knowledge into practice through the planting of ‘green barns’ to help sheep lamb outside, or if lambing in sheds to get them out as early as possible.

Accessible tree forage also provides important diversity to animals’ diet, something increasingly acknowledged by animal health experts.

At the Irish Agroforestry Forums conference in Bantry last year, researchers Dr Lindsay Whistance and Dr Kathy Soder went into some detail about the many nutritional benefits trees can provide.

Regulatory compliance

Another source of stress on farms is regulatory compliance, particularly in relation to water quality. While they may not be able to rescue Ireland’s nitrogen derogation at this late stage, trees have a role in ensuring individual farms are not contributing unnecessarily to the nutrient or sediment burden in our rivers.

Projects like the Duhallow Blue Dot have shown that well planned tree features can be effective nutrient pathway disruptors, particularly in the case of phosphorus. Such features can be created through schemes like the Native Tree Area Scheme or the Woodland for Water element of the Native Woodland Scheme.

Sub-licence threshold planting is another option which can give farmers more flexibility and is now more viable due to the easing of penalties on ineligible features.


Despite the malaise currently enveloping forestry, most farmers retain a great fondness for trees. The emergence of whitethorn blossoms in May or the calling of nesting songbirds from a hedge is a huge part of what makes farming (at least on a good day) the best profession of them all.I’ve had hundreds of conversations with farmers who speak with pride and even emotion about the trees and woods on their farm. Talking about them sees themes of family, history and legacy surface.

Nostalgic childhood memories are recounted and also emotive ones of parents or grandparents. This stuff is important, and I think a great motivator for farmers to plant trees themselves.

I feel the old saying around the meaning of life being ‘planting trees under whose shade you will never sit’ is somewhat overstated. Nobody needs to be a martyr here.

In 2016, we planted a few acres of our place in Clare. Today, my three-year-old son climbed to the top of one of the now 10 foot alder trees. Hard to put a value on that.

Ray ó Foghlú is an environmental scientist and woodland conservationist. He is the farm programmes co-ordinator with the Hometree charity.