Teagasc economic review highlights strong argument for replacing some beef with more forestry

The recent Teagasc economic review of farming also covered the forestry sector.

There is a national target to expand forestry to 18% of land area by 2046, from its current level of 11%.

The level of planting taking place is modest, at about 6,000 hectares per annum.

About 9% of Irish farms have some forestry already, with an average ownership of 10.5 ha per farm, and a concentration on cattle farms.

For those already in forestry, the good news is that native demand for timber is expected to grow over the period to 2020, largely stimulated by the recovery of the building industry.

However, a considerable volume of timber is exported to the UK, and prices have already been affected by the decline in the value of sterling, and could be seriously affected in the future, when Britain leaves the European Union.

Forestry contributes to the reduction of greenhouse gasses in two ways.

While growing, trees remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Latest estimates are that forests established since 1990 removed 3.4 million tonnes of carbon in 2015.

This is projected to increase to 4.7 million tonnes by 2025.

When harvested, trees can be used to generate electricity, replacing fossil fuels such as coal, oil and turf, and the emission savings from this, in 2015, are estimated at 0.6 million tonnes.

It is clear that the argument for replacing some beef with trees has not been very thoroughly debated, and that much needs to be done to change farmer attitudes.

The permanent nature of the forestry decision is obviously a deterrent to many.

Measuring agricultural sustainability

In debates about agricultural policy, “sustainability” has become an important buzzword.

Teagasc started to measure the sustainability of the agricultural sector in economic, social and environmental terms in recent years, with the first measures based on 2012 data.

In the recent Teagasc economic review of farming, similar data were presented by John Lynch, for the years to 2015, making it possible to assess the degree to which progress is being made.

The economic indicators show that the value of output and gross margins for all enterprises remained fairly similar since 2012. Likewise, farm income per labour unit was broadly similar, but with a slight increase in 2015.

The share of output derived from the market (excluding subsidies) increased from 66% in 2012 to 75% in 2015 (but that may regress in 2016). Greenhouse gas emissions per hectare have also remained fairly stable over the period 2012 to 2015.

There has been some reduction in emissions from cattle but some increase in dairy emissions.

Nitrogen emissions per hectare peaked in 2013, and have fallen since, indicating improved efficiency.


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