Farmers have committed to planting over 400,000 trees under the Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) tree planting measure, the Irish Agroforesrty Forum heard in Bantry last week.
Updating the conference on farmers’ interest in ACRES measures involving trees, forestry inspector Eugene Curran at the Department of Agriculture said there was great uptake, with 3,200 farmers choosing to plant 409,800 trees in the tree planting measure.
Some 2,053,789 metres of new hedgerows are to be planted, 100,387 trees will be planted in riparian buffer zones, and 121 farmers committed to planting 36.7ha as a tree-belt for ammonia capture.
A further 1,546 applicants chose to plant a traditional orchard (10 trees).
Building on this interest in trees, and using it to bridge the gap between farming and forestry, was one of the challenges ahead, and the forestry inspector felt that agroforestry offered a potential solution.
What is agroforestry?
Agroforestry is a collective name for land-use practices where trees are combined with crops and/or animals on the same unit of land.
Its most common forms are silvopastoral systems, mixing trees and grass or silvoarable systems, where trees and crops are grown side by side.
Curran gave a briefing on the progress and lessons learned from the initial agroforestry scheme.
Introduced in 2015 with a target of having 200ha of newly-created agroforestry by 2020, it received 106 applications, with a potential 260ha between them. To date, over 50ha have been planted and 23 farmers are in receipt of payment.
The lessons learned from the early adapters of the scheme could be divided into financial and practical ones. Establishment grants weren’t sufficient enough to cover costs and the premium duration wasn’t long enough to attract people in.
In response to this, the new agroforestry scheme has seen the grant rate for establishing agroforestry increase from €5,620/ha to €8,555/ha, and the annual premium has also risen from €645/ha to €975/ha, and the duration of the payments has doubled from five to 10 years.
Avoiding monocultures when planting and having a larger headland to allow machinery to be used if agroforestry plots were cut for silage was also recommended.
Another change was a demand for the inclusion of fruit and nut trees; as a result, they can now form up to 15% of the overall species content.
The increased demand for trees, particularly those of native provenance, while the new flagship environmental scheme begins, is proving to be a challenge for the country’s nurseries.
The nature of their introduction put pressure on nurseries to have certified Irish supplies every four or five years, which were then followed by years where the plants in question saw a drop in demand.
John Albrow from Future Forests told last week’s Irish Agroforestry Forum in Bantry, Co Cork, that as soon as the Department of Agriculture opened a new scheme, there was a rush for the same type of plants.
He said that he felt there needed to be a bit more communication with nurseries further out from the start dates of such schemes.
“In GLAS, and now ACRES, we are not able to meet people’s demands presently.
“We have a list of interest from our customers to see what they wanted, but we’re only putting that out because we weren’t sure of the availability of what we can get, because of the need for the plants to be certified Irish,” Albrow said.