Fruit and Nut
|Assessing the Nut and Fruit Resource|
Land Use Classification (updated and revised 12/05/19)
The potential land resource available for nut and fruit production is calculated from the total agricultural land resource of approximately 4 479 000 ha (CSO data 2013). This area can be broken down into 5 categories:
Under the Nut and Fruit scenario, land used to produce outputs geared to export markets (beef, lamb, milk, or feedstuff for animals produced for export markets) is seen as potentially available for crops aimed at domestic consumption. The export food trade is underpined by non-sustainable subsidies and an equally unsustainable heavy resource footprint (for example embodied energy, finite resource depletion, carbon emissions). Ireland produces ten times more beef than it can use itself, six times more milk, and three to four times more lamb. Yet only about 35 percent of the food currently eaten in Ireland is produced here. Change is inevitable. Scaled down to more sustainable levels, the food export trade may serve some strategic purpose but the priority would be to free up land to produce more food for domestic consumption.
Obviously, not all agricultural land is of the necessary quality or in the right location for developing for nut or fruit orchards. The soil may be too poor, or the locality too windy or too wet, or too prone to late spring frosts. Based on existing knowledge of the typical quality and regional location of the land in each of the categories listed above, some reasonable estimates can be made as to the proportion that might be suitable for orchards (see table below).
For the purposes of this study, only one third of the land currently used for export markets and potentially suitable for orchards (approximately 100 000 ha), is actually allocated for orchards. This provides a generous reserve capacity. The actual breakdown might look something this:
The same calculations for protein are as follows:
Many of the orchard land allocated above would be suitable for low density livestock (for example sheep, pigs, geese, small breeds of cow) thereby providing additional food outputs. The sustainable level of grazing would be around 0.40 LU/ha (Livestock units per hectare). 1 LU is equivalent of 1 dairy cow, 5-6 sheep, 3-4 sows or about 40 geese. Providing the trees were protected from potential damage from rubbing or grazing, the low density grazing of orchards would help recycle tree nutrients as well as reduce the incidence of persistant diseases such as canker and scab.
In the early years of orchard establishment, the orchards could also be used for alley crops: crops grown between the lines of trees. Crops suitable for alley cultivation include grains and vegetables, as well as soft fruit.
Acorns, pinenuts and araucaria
Throughout human history, acorns from oak trees have been a valuable source of food, both for people and livestock. the Until recent times, the people of the Mediterranean and Western Asian regions have included the sweet acorns of the evergreen oaks as part of their diet. In many of these countries, the same acorns were also used to help fatten pigs. This practise continues to this day in the Dehesa and Montado of Spain and Portugal. In Porto, Portugal, roast acorns can be purchased from street vendors and are considered a delicacy. Although acorns are not included in the calculations above, their potential should not be underestimated. Holm oak (Quercus ilex), the oak of the Desada and Montado, grows and crops well in Ireland and will grow in urban or exposed coastal locations unsuitable for cobnuts or walnuts. In the nineteenth century, many thousands of holm oak were planted as ornamental trees around north (particularly Fairview, Clontarf and Raheny).
Globally, there are about twenty-five species of pine that produce nuts large enough to be considered for human food. The different species are well scattered: from Mexico and the United States to the Mediterranean, Central Europe and Eastern Asia. Economically, the most important species are Pinus pinea (Mediterranean countries), Pinus siberica (Russia and Mongolia), Pinus koraiensis (Korea and China) , Pinus gerardiana (Pakistan and India) and Pinus cembroides (Mexico). Other important nut species include Pinus cembra (Central Europe), Pinus monophylla, Pinus edulis, Pinus sabiniana, Pinus torreyana and Pinus coulteri (all southwestern United States).
In Ireland , the Mediterranean Stone Pine (Pinus pinea) is by far the most likely pine to produce regular crops of nuts. Although of Mediterranean origin, like the Holm oak it grows well in Irish conditions and is particularly suited to urban and exposed coastal locations. In a good year, a mature tree can produce hundreds of cones, with approx 50g of seed per cone. Although yields per unit area are low compared to other nuts the Pinus pinea will produce crops in locations where other nuts would not succeed.
The Monkey Puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana) is a familiar sight in gardens and parks across Ireland. However, outside of specialist botanical circles, very few people are aware that this spectacular tree produces large edible seeds (approximately the size of a large almond). A single tree can produce as much as 100kg of seed. In its native environment in the Araucania region of China the araucaria has been an important staple food for countless millennia.
Unlike any of the nut species discussed above, the araucaria will grow on tough upland soils and is tolerant of high rainfall. Potentially, it could produce a food crop in locations unsuited for most other forms of agriculture. At a very modest harvest of 25kg per tree, one hectare could yield around 2 tonnes of seed.
Nutritional information is provided in the table below.
On the basis of land suitability and projected changes in climate as a consequence of global warming, Ireland could easily produce over ten percent of its dietary energy requirements from nut and fruit orchards. The same is true for protein. However, the realistic lead time, from the moment this objective became national policy, would probably be 30-40 years. Therein lies the problem. Contemporary globalised agricultural policy works to a very short time horizon: typically only 3-5 years. Although the risks and consequences of global warming are understood at official level - after all, Ireland, along with all other EU states, is a signatory to the IPCC - there seems a complete disconnect when it comes to agricultural policy. Here, business as usual is king.
Does the allocation of 135 000 hectares of land for orchards seem unrealistic? If it does, compare it with over three million hectares of agricultural land (complete with annual subsidies of two billion euro, and imported animal feedstuff requirements of two million tonnes each year, plus a further one million tonnes of artificial fertiliser) currently devoted to serving export markets, while Ireland imports nearly two thirds of the food it eats.
More information and analysis will be provided in the near future.