Agro forestry in Ireland. April 2011
A personal perspective on Irish Agro-forestry.
By Mr Sandro Cafolla. life long Sustainable Ecosystems Technician and Permaculture Designer specializing in native flora and alternative crops
For hundreds of years in Ireland, landowners and farmers have tended hedgerows and small areas of land planted with trees. The result is a patch work of fields, with 5% tree cover in many counties, especially in the Border midland West areas, and the Northwest and south west.
Intertwined across the Irish landscape are more recent forest type plantings, since 1850 some for high forest and long rotations, others for fuels, chip and willow rods. Sitka spruce is a dominant species, however Fire, economics and disease threaten the Spruce-conifer monocultures long term potential.
On farm land, planned, agro forestry is rare, no where, bar a few research stations and the odd progressive farmer, can real row crops of trees be seen in the landscape. Instead farmer rely on the more natural hedgerow for shelter and fuel wood. Occasional tree are allow spring up from managed hedges.
Some hedgerows are cut short every year, others are left for many years. Upland hedgerows and ripirean zones have emence value, as too do the many forest remnants that were culled back to single hedges and ditch marks
I am not suggesting that straight line of well spaced trees, are an ideal Agro-forestry solution for Ireland, But as its the global industrial norm, we should have at least a few thousand stands of Argo-forest plots. but we dont.
So, if you and a few more brave people would like to start. I and my Business are hear to assist.
The Department of Environment recently provided funding for my good self to provide training and educat services to Celt in Co Clare, an Agroforestry group.
Teagasc have recently put Agro-forestry on there agenda, not for the first time and Irish charities and NGO'S fund over seas agro forestry and have some considerable knowledge.
Agro forestry fits well with biodiversity on the farm, especially when consumers demand more nature friendly agri systems.
Permaculture places agroforestry in the outer zones and much work has been done on small argo-forest systems called Forest Gardens.
Throughout Ireland, trees have been planted for good use. Fig, Mulberry and Quince are now widely planted for ornamental and Cherry and Malus line our suburban streets. Gardens and Farms often have an apple trees or two and some other tree or soft fruit. The Irish Seed Savers hold a collection of Irish bred apple trees. arbutus fruits well, my father even appreciates a good tree in Dunlaoire, he says the fruit is not as good as in Italy, (what is) but in a good summer, he often raids the neighbors tree, he's 90 years old and still robbing orchards, lol.
Commercial Nut trees are rare, other than the main natives of Oak and Hazel, Walnut, Sweet Chestnut and Beech, are planted and do yield nuts, but often of poor flavour, quality, ripening or yield. and few good cultivars are available.
Trees are mainly grown for timber, ornament, landscape and nature conservation. Foliage and fruit crops were once popular commercial activities and have gained a small foot hold again in since the early 1990's.
The climate suits growth, and flowering but rarely ripening of many tree fruits, seeds and nuts.
Two good years for a harvest in five used to be the norm for most fruit and out door tomatoes, if the climate changes, to climate instead of weather, then maybe more tree crops can be grown commercially for there fruit.
Almonds, peach and pear, rarely have the right conditions for good fruit, but where shelter and a warm site are given then, they will produce.
Timber grows fast in Ireland, therefore it matures early and has large growth rings. Timber will be a main pillar of future agro forestry production.
However, there are many tree and shrub species of commercial potential, still largely untried in Ireland. As most land is stocked with animals, and dear abound in parts, fencing is a critical cost in any attempt at forestry, bar the stock resistant Sitka spruce.
So where to make a start.
What size is the land parcel available for agro forestry / forest gardening? What will the land and the region grow, what's growing, your budget? how to prepare the land? These are just some of the questions to be answered.
Can land be parceled together between owner/farmers, all retaining individual ownership, but planting together to get critical mass for pre and post planting , management and harvesting operations and volume to achieve higher prices.
Where to source species and named varieties to perform to your requirements