Farmers look ahead to see woods and trees

July 21, 1995

Welsh farmers are re-examining their use of land because agriculture profits are forecast to fall and returns from forestry expected to increase.

To prevent Wales following Languedoc in Southern France to rural dereliction, farmers acknowledge that diversification is the key to the countryside's survival.

But in order to diversify effectively farmers need information about the profitability of agro-forestry schemes. Terry Thomas of Bangor University's School of Agriculture and Forest Sciences is the man to contact.

He has been awarded Pounds 165,000 from the European Union to glean farmers' views on agro-forestry across the continent. These opinions will help formulate the Commission's forestry policies.

The hope is that such policies will encourage far more of Europe's farmers to start up small-scale forestry on their land.

In Wales, the project is being backed by the Forestry Commission, the Countryside Council and the Welsh Office as well as the EU.

Already Mr Thomas has discovered that some tree species - such as Poplar - can be as profitable as crops like winter wheat. But EU subsidies are not enough to make slow-growing British broad-leafed trees economic.

"One of our tasks will be to find out how much grant would be needed to make broad-leaved forests cost effective," said Mr Thomas.

Farmers are also deterred from applying for grants by the complex application procedure they face. Simplifying the system could be another beneficial outcome from the project which ends next January.

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