Kerry Farm Walk Highlights Innovative Agroforestry Practices

"Co. Kerry Farmers Embrace Agroforestry to Reap Benefits of Tree Planting"

The advantages of incorporating trees into agricultural practices took center stage during a farm walk dedicated to agroforestry in County Kerry this past week. Agroforestry encompasses a range of land-use techniques where trees are integrated with crops or livestock on the same parcel of land. Thomas and Claire O’Connor, the hosts of the farm walk, have overseen Manna Organic Farm in Camp, County Kerry for the last 17 years.

This 25-acre farm exemplifies agroforestry principles with vegetable plots surrounded by protective trees and a 4-acre permaculture field featuring fruit trees and shrubs. An additional 4 acres are dedicated to terraced agroforestry, housing soft fruit bushes and a variety of trees including willow, birch, and sycamore. The farm also boasts approximately 13 acres of indigenous woodland, with oak trees comprising around 60% of the plantings, established about 14 years ago.

Certified organic farmers, the O’Connors emphasize the significance of maintaining a healthy ecosystem to cultivate nutrient-rich produce. In addition to their farm, the couple operates an organic store in nearby Tralee, enabling them to directly sell their horticultural offerings to consumers. Their product range includes salads, kale, scallions, onions, leeks, garlic, tomatoes, cucumbers, and courgettes.

“We tend to grow the freshest produce possible for our store, supplemented by purchases from local producers and imports. Every item available in our shop is certified organic,” Thomas shared with Agriland. The horticultural section of Manna Organic Farm benefits from the shelter provided by the surrounding trees.

Given the farm’s exposed location on the Dingle Peninsula, Thomas recognized the pivotal role trees play in providing protection for crops and livestock, as well as enhancing soil fertility through nutrient recycling. Trees also yield by-products like fruit and wood, offering an additional revenue stream. “Being situated on a mountainside, the successful growth of trees here is invaluable,” he remarked. Thomas highlighted how the hedgerows and ditches on the farm create dew, ensuring ample moisture during heatwaves.

Acknowledging the element of trial and error inherent in tree management, Thomas emphasized the importance of learning from fellow farmers and experts. The recent farm walk was part of a series organized by the Irish Agroforestry Forum, aiming to showcase the benefits of integrating trees into farming practices, including biodiversity enhancement, improved animal welfare, soil health, and climate change mitigation.

Under the new Forestry Programme 2023-2027, agroforestry planting receives support through various funding mechanisms and premiums. Notably, land converted for agroforestry under this scheme is classified as forestry by the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine (DAFM). Thomas underscored the importance of tree planting beyond financial incentives, citing the resilience, stress reduction for animals, and shelter creation that trees bring to a farm.

“The schemes are invaluable as they assist with establishment, fencing, and setup. However, planting trees offers broader benefits to the farm. They enhance resilience, alleviate stress on animals, and provide shelter, future-proofing the farm,” Thomas emphasized. He advocated for a shift in perception regarding trees in the landscape, emphasizing the importance of continuous ecosystem improvement over monoculture practices.

“It’s about moving away from a singular focus on Sitka spruce monocultures and constant clear-felling. Instead, it’s about enhancing the ecosystem and environment through ongoing improvements,” Thomas concluded.

Matt Lyons

Matt Lyons

Matt Lyons is the founder of Forestry & Carbon. Matt has over 25 years as a forestry consultant and is invoilved in numerous carbon credit offset projects.

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