Forestry’s vital role in improving the carbon footprint of farming

Oliver Moore talks to forestry experts who say the sector can deliver profits and a bright future for farmers

With beef and sheep under pressure from climate change negotiations, could agroforestry help improve livestock’s carbon footprint?

Agroforestry combines farming and forestry.

However, it’s not that the two sites are next to each other.

Rather, they are integrated into the one area. So the trees and either animals or crops are together in the same fields.

There are three main types of agroforestry: silvioarable (trees and crops), silviopastural (trees and animals) and agro-silviopastural (trees, crops and animals).

Planting rates vary, with 5x5 metre tree spacing typical of most plots.

Some set ups, involving crops (and with more of a machinery requirement) are spaced at 6 x 1.5 metres.

Interestingly, animal stocking rates per hectare are the same as without trees.

Eugene Curran is a District Forestry Inspector with the Department working in Skibbereen, Co Cork.

Where are the agroforestry demonstration sites in Cork?

We set up a couple of trial plots. Liam Beechinor set up atwo hectare demonstration plot near Dunmanway aboutfour years ago and its success showed that it could work.

Last summer another demonstration plot was completed by Alan Kingston near Dunmanway.

Also a German man, Christoph Eiselle, had undertaken some planting of Paulownia and Dutch disease tolerant elms.

This prompted a couple of field days.

A call for proposals from the Department has been made in order to further our knowledge of agroforestry.

Who do you think will be interested?

We think more than likely a farmer may have an application for a larger plantation, and he might look at a field within that plantation proposal.

He might think, the grass is really good from that field for years, and hesitate about converting it over fully to forestry. So agroforestry gives him access to the grass from that field.

Farmers may need the grass and have livestock; with climate change and the damp springs, it’s an advantage to have access to the grass in certain situations, such as when there is a fodder shortage.

The great thing is that, if using sheep, once ewes are moved on, the grass still grows, and you have the flexibility to go in and cut hay or silage afterwards.

It can give farmer flexibility for grazing, silage, hay, the price and availability of fodder can fluctuate. A farmer can make savings or sell the fodder.

What is the animal density typically?

Its roughly 15 ewes per hectare and with cattle five per hectare.

It’s best to use small calves when the trees are young, and bigger animals after seven to eight years.

Cattle can actually be less damaging than sheep, and smaller cattle such as Dexter and Jerseys suit.

Also dairy farmers have been enquiring about agroforestry plots for extra grazing or fodder for calves.

Another aspect is that trees which are slower growing, such as oak, mean there is more grass for the farmer.

As they mature and thin out, we can manage the canopy and manage the amount of grass underneath.

Apart from grass and grants, are there other environmental benefits?

Tress help water percolate into soil, they prevent water and nutrient run off, so suspended solids are less likely to run into the water.

Earthworms in the soil take the leaves into the ground and increase carbon content of the soil, so it’s not just carbon sequestered in the timber but in these leaves too.

So agroforestry could play a role in mitigating carbon emissions from other sources.

They can also provide a renewable source of fuel and bioenergy, helping us to move away from fossil fuels.

At a certain height it looks like a parkland, so it is quite attractive.

This has amenity or agri-tourism potential.

There is lots of canopy biodiversity; birds insects, spiders, lichens, so there are huge environmental benefits.


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