WITH TOUGH economic conditions putting pressure on farmers, many are looking to diversify their businesses – and thanks to the grants now available, one very financially attractive option is turning over some ground for farm forestry.

Later this month, farmers in Aberdeenshire will have the chance to hear all about these grants and how to apply for them at a meeting organised by the Scottish Government’s Farm Advisory Service. Advice and information on all aspects of the economics of farm forestry will be covered during the event at Auchintender, near Huntly on October 26.

It will also offer a chance to see a newly established forest, alongside a similar wood planted in 2002 which will soon be ready for thinning.

The meeting – involving local farm foresters and staff from Forestry Commission Scotland – will be delivered by specialists from SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College, which manages the FAS.

Auchintender owner Aylsa Leslie will explain why she and her father decided to convert most of the farm to forestry. Auchintender’s grants more than cover the cost of planting, the maintenance payments provide an income for the next five years and young woodlands receive Basic Payment for twenty years after planting.

SAC Consulting's senior forestry consultant Simon Jacyna said: “Not only does woodland creation help meet important national targets to address climate change and create new habitats, it can add enormously to a farm business. On improved grass land or arable land much of the work, including the planting and weed-control, can be mechanised. This substantially reduces costs due to the high outputs and also gives a very uniform crop. Some farmers have invested in mowers or small sprayers and reduce costs even further by doing work that would otherwise be done by contractors.”

The main conifer species such as the spruces and scots pine have been the subject of intensive breeding programmes in recent years and yields and quality are now up to 20% higher than before. This reduces rotation lengths and increases the proportion of sawlogs in the final crop.

Simon said: “Sawmillers and timber buyers want logs that are straight and free from defects. A good quality crop will produce periodic income from thinnings and a premium price when clear felled.”

Woodlands created under the Challenge Fund in the late nineties can be ready for their first thinning by the age of eighteen or nineteen, yielding up to 50 tonnes per hectare with a net return of well over £10 per tonne in the best cases. Subsequent thinnings should be worth even more. Clear felling, typically around forty five years of age, can yield more than 500 tonnes per hectare with a return of more than £16,000 per hectare.

After lunch at Insch Golf Club there will be more detailed discussions on grants available for farm woodland creation, economic comparisons with agriculture and the opportunities for business diversification. There will also be a demonstration of a planting machine and a quad bike mounted sprayer adapted for forestry use.

While the event is free, anyone planning to attend should register by contacting simon.jacyna@sac.co.uk or phoning 01343 548787.