Fruit and Nut
What is agroforestry?
Agroforestry is an integrated system of land use that encompasses both traditional farming and woodland, and which provides for a diversity of economic outputs while enhancing the rural landscape and environment. It can take many forms, the two main categories of which are listed below:
1 Grazed land combined with low density planting of trees for timber, fruit or nut production. Trees are normally planted in lines, with wide spacing between rows, but sometimes in widely spaced islands within the grazed area, or simply as well spaced individual trees.
2 Tilled land combined with low density planting of trees in lines as outlined above. Tillage is confined to 'alleys' between the rows of trees, hence the term alley crops.
Advantages for livestock
- Provision of shelter in cold, windy or wet weather
- Improved feed conversion as less animal energy required to maintain body temperature
- Enhanced diet (for example from leaves or acorns)
- Reduced housing needs
- Provision of shade during hot weather (even in Ireland this is beneficial)
Advantages for tillage crops
- Improved growth from more benign microclimate (warmer, less windy)
- Reduced risk of disease (from increased biodiversity)
Advantages for trees
- Increased nutrient inputs (from manure)
- Reduced risk of disease (from increased biodiversity and greater ventilation)
- Diversification of outputs leading to improved financial return and security
- Increased possibilities of direct retail sales (giving higher return)
- Increased employment possibilities (including agro-tourism)
- Increased biodiversity
- Increased carbon sequestration (in tree biomass, including roots)
- Reduced agricultural pollution (for example, from reduced slurry production)
- Reduced erosion and soil loss (from reduced wind speeds and improved soil cohesion)
- Enhanced rural landscape
- Increased employment
- Increased local food production
- Increase food security and resilience to climate change
Agroforestry in Ireland
Agroforestry has massive potential in Ireland. Grants are now available for agroforestry projects. The principal criteria for grant assistance are as follows:
Allowable agricultural activities
Grazing by sheep or young domestic stock is permitted during spring and summer for the first six to eight years. Trees must be protected from stock and tree shelters checked regularly. Once trees are of a sufficient size, tree shelters can then be replaced with heavier duty protection and larger stock can be introduced.
Silage and hay production is also permitted. When cutting silage and/or hay, appropriate machinery must be used so as to ensure that the trees are not inadvertently damaged.
According to the Teagasc website, acceptable species 'include oak, sycamore and cherry but other species can also be considered on a case by case basis'. If possible, trees of 90 cm - 120 cm (or larger) should be used. Planting should be carried out using pit planting. Initial stocking rate should be between 400 and 1000 trees per hectare* equally spaced out. Minimum plot size is 0.5 ha while minimum plot width is 20 metres.
*10-25m² per tree. However, there is a general expectation that trees would be thinned over time.
A good case could be made for planting walnut trees, primarily for timber (Black walnut or hybrid walnuts) but possibly including nut-bearing cultivars of the European walnut too. Also very viable for agroforestry projects would be evergreen oaks (for timber as well as edible acorns), sweet chestnut, cider apple trees grown on vigorous rootstocks, and cobnuts.
Ideally, sites should contain free-draining mineral soils and should have no requirement for additional drainage.
80 percent of eligible costs are covered. Land classified by the Department as ‘unimproved/unenclosed’ (i.e. GPC 1) will not be eligible for support. Grant rates and payment structure are paid on a fixed grant basis. Premiums will be paid for five years and will cover the cost of maintenance only.
The maximum grant and premium rates are detailed below. The afforestation grant is a fixed grant to cover the costs incurred in the establishment of a forest and paid exclusive of VAT. It is paid in two instalments as outlined below. An additional allowance for fencing (to the maximum rates detailed below) is payable with the first grant instalment.
Grant Rates (€/ha)
Premium Rate (€/ha)
Further details of the grant scheme can be found here
Advice for landowners seeking grant assistance for agroforestry
Although hardly a new concept, agroforestry is very new to Ireland. Most of the impetus has come from Ireland's partners in Europe (more info here). Consequently, forestry policy-makers here have tended to err on the side of conservatism. Landowners looking to develop an agroforestry project that focuses on something other than trees for timber - for example tree crops such as cobnuts or cider apples - will be obliged to present a very strong case. As grant applications have to be submitted through a grant-body approved forester, it is essential that the forester who is contracted to do this is fully supportive of the project. It would be fair to presume that most foresters currently working in Ireland will have no working experience of agroforestry (not unless they have worked or trained abroad). It is advisable to shop around (and be prepared to have to sell the project idea to the forester too).
Organising and managing a graft aided project
Option 1: Organise the ground preparation, planting and maintenance work yourself
Regardless of the level of additional expertise employed, the landowner is still required to employ a registered forester* to submit the grant application to the Forest Service (DAFM). Only when financial approval has been received from the Forest Service in writing can the work start.
This option involves the landowner in the project from the very beginning. Providing the work can be completed to the required standard, this option is the one most likely to yield a good outcome over time.
Option 2: Hire a registered forester to organise and coordinate the project
With this option the grant money is normally paid directly to the forester. As the grant is only intended to cover a maximum of 80 percent of allowed costs, the forester will require additional payment from the landowner. As above, the inclusion of fruit or nut trees (which are more expensive and require more ground preparation and maintenance than forestry trees) will add to project costs. There should be a legally binding contract between the landowner and forester. The contract should clearly specify all works and costs. Normally the contract will include provision for tree maintenance for the first four years.
The option chosen should reflect the landowner’s circumstances and the amount of time she or he can allocate to planning, organising and doing the work. The aim should be to manage the project to the highest possible standard. Irrespective of which option is chosen, all the paperwork at pre-planting, post-planting and at the second grant stage must be prepared by a registered forester acting on the landowner’s behalf. More information about the grant application and payment procedure is here
*Registered foresters are professional foresters (either consultant foresters or attached to forestry companies) who are registered with the Forest Service.
Potential challenges to agroforestry projects
- Unfamiliarity with agroforestry systems and crops (lack of knowledge and experience)
- Limited access to practical information (very few people in Ireland have practiced agroforestry)
- Set up costs
- Competition between trees and crops for water, light and nutrients
- Management and logistical issues (for example difficulties of mechanical tillage in relatively narrow alleys)
- Marketing issues (for example the challenge of selling new agricultural products or in establishing new markets
These potential challenges should not be underestimated.
Planning an agroforestry project
Take the time to evaluate the proposed project carefully. Carry out the necessary market research into the intended farm products. Determined planting requirements (species, spacing between rows, distance between rows), tree protection, maintenance requirements, lead times and harvesting requirements. Be prepared to pay for expertise.
Land and soil audit
Ensure the site is suitable for the intended crops. Check soil type, pH and depth, degree of natural percolation, micro-climate, aspect, shelter, existing ground cover, and access for machinery.
Do a realistic audit of personal skills and knowledge
Local resource audit
Assess whether skills, machinery, intended livestock or trees for planting are available locally, and if the source/supplier is reliable. If not, establish how far away they are.
Reducing risk in agroforestry projects
Play to known strengths
What this means in practice is staying within familiar territory as much as possible. The livestock farmer with no experience of tillage crops would be ill-advised to jump into an agroforestry project combining tree crops with alley crops of grain or vegetables. Equally, the tillage farmer should think twice about embarking on an agroforest project involving livestock.
Allow ample time for setting up
A full calendar year is probably the bare minimum time between project formulation and actual initiation. If things go well, and ground conditions permit, tree planting may be undertaken towards the end of year one. In other cases it is probably better to delay planting until March or April of year two. In Ireland, trees planted in spring nearly always do better than ones planted in late autumn or early winter.
In most agroforestry projects, reseeding of the land (with grass or green manure crops) is likely to be beneficial, and this is best done the year before any tree planting takes place. Also, any stock-proofing work (for example perimeter fencing) should be carried out before tree planting occurs. Any remedial work such as drainage works or providing adequate access for machinery, must be done in advance.
Trees may have to be ordered a long time in advance, particularly where the trees are species not used in conventional forestry (for example evergreen oaks, hybrid walnuts or walnut cultivars intended for nut production, cobnuts, cider apples and other fruit trees). Tree stocks in Ireland may be limited or only available from specialist suppliers (note: this nursery will endeavour to meet any agroforestry requests).
Use the highest quality tree stock available
Trees should have well developed root systems. Where grafted trees are being used (for example fruit trees or grafted walnuts) the grafts should be free from lesions or cankers.
Carry out tree planting according to best possible practice
This might seem obvious but is frequently not done. The part of afforestation or orchard projects that is most frequently done most poorly is the actual planting of the trees. The principal reasons are lack of knowledge about what constitutes good practice, poor planning especially provision of tools and appropriately skilled labour, inadequate time allowance for completing the task, and poor scheduling (for example, carrying out the planting during inappropriate weather or poor ground conditions). Unless there is a very specific reason for not doing this, trees should be staked and individually protected from rabbits and hares. In some cases, it is preferable to make the entire field hare and rabbit proof rather than protect trees on an individual basis (for example where tree guards can add to disease risk).
Have a clear schedule for maintenance
After planting, this is the aspect of tree projects next most likely do be done poorly (or in worst cases, not at all). At the very least, the area around the trees should be kept free of competing vegetation for 3-4 years. Competition from ground cover plants or weeds will always hinder tree establishment and in worst case scenarios will result in tree failure.
Most trees also benefit from pruning. This might involve no more than removing suckers and low or damaged branches, but will vary according to the species of tree and its intended purpose. Trees intended for fruit or nuts will require a higher degree of intervention.
Stakes, ties, and tree protection should be inspected on a regular basis and replaced or repaired as required.
Trees doing very poorly should be removed (and if spacing specification requires it, replaced). Trees grown for timber purposes will require thinning at about year four or five.
Planning an agroforestry project
Choice of tree
The principal agroforestry trees suitable for Ireland are listed below. Shelter refers to animal shelter.
Approximate planting distances are given below. Much depends on the species of tree, the intended crop or livestock regime and management practices.Note: the wider spacings may not comply with grant requirements regarding minimum tree density. The narrower of the distances between rows given for the smaller trees would rule out conventional sized agricultural machinery.
Generalised planting specifications for food diversity (fruit or nut production) options
Details of approximate planting distances for fruit and nut species are given below:
Specific planting recommendations for fruit or nut crops in agrofrestry projects*
* presumes minimum planting density of 400 trees per hectare (this is to comply with grant criteria)
*Unfortunately, eligibility for grants may require much tighter row spacing - for example 5-6m - as the emphasis in Irish grant-aided agroforestry projects is on continued livestock grazing, not alley crops. It would be up to the applicant to make a case for wider row distances. Alternatively, sacrificial rows of a native tree species could be interplanted between the other rows, and removed as the canopy began to fill or when full grant compliance has been achieved.
In order to increase the diversity of outputs, a range of different species could be included within the same agroforestry project. The best way to do this would be to allocate a separate parcel of land for each different tree type, with each parcel allocated on the basis of its suitability for a particular tree. The parcels do not have to be the same size. For example, a 10 hectare site could be subdivided into one large parcel fo 5 ha plus five smaller parcels of 1 ha each. The minimum parcel size should be 0.5-1 ha.
The nursery provides a professional consultancy service on all aspects of fruit and nut orchard establishment, including agroforestry projects. More information here
Page updated 24/11/15