FORESTRY IS a 'big game changer' for landowners and farmers – that was the message from EGGER Forestry business development manager Simon Hart at Scottish Land and Estates' recent Spring Conference in Edinburgh.

In front of a large audience at the Assembly Rooms, Mr Hart set out the two key reasons for his optimism: strong policy environment, largely driven by climate change concerns, and strong forest economics.

The Scottish Government is committed to bold climate change targets and the carbon sequestration from afforestation is an essential plank of this policy, he pointed out. The new Scottish Forestry Strategy (launched in April) sets out an increasing pace of afforestation from the current 10,000ha per year to 15,000ha by 2025. Favourable grants are available from Scottish Forestry – formerly known as Forestry Commission Scotland – meaning that for most schemes, grant income exceeds costs. This is key for many land owners who don’t necessarily have the spare capital to invest in forestry.

At the same time, timber prices have increased substantially over the last 10 years, and Mr Hart explained how this meant that forestry does not have to be at large scale to be economic: “Forestry is no longer just for the rich and famous. With positive economics and government commitment to expansion, forestry makes sense for a much wider range of land owners than in the past. It is no longer a case of sheep or trees, but sheep and trees."

Global demand for timber is predicted to increase three-fold by WWF by 2050, and the UK relies on imports for 80% of its timber needs, so the long term outlook for prices was excellent, he reported.

Even a 10 hectare block could be worth as much as £200,000 at today’s prices after 35 to 40 years. A handy sum of capital for investment in a farm business or perhaps a contribution towards pension planning. He concluded by saying that forestry could be a 'game changer' and urged farmers to embrace the current opportunities to plant trees and diversify their business.