Encouraging Europe's farmers to diversify into forestry is the aim of the Pounds 1 million Beam Project, funded by the European Union, and based at the school of agriculture and forest science at the University College of North Wales, Bangor. The EU has concluded that the fast-growing poplar is the species of tree best suited for this purpose.
To persuade farmers to plant poplar forests, two of Bangor's partner organisations, Belgium's forestry institute and Italy's poplar institute have developed two new, hardy, disease resistant poplar hybrids that grow particularly quickly on agricultural land.
The Belgian hybrid, called Beaupre, is designed to withstand Northern European conditions, while the Italian hybrid, called Louisa Avanfo is best suited for Mediterranean countries.
"Beaupre trees were planted at our test site near Llangoed in Powys Valley," explained the project director, Terry Thomas. "Some of the poplars grew 3.5 metres per year."
The plantation is one of 50 in Europe producing data that will enable Mr Thomas and his team to develop a management system for Europe's poplars.
"We want to ensure that farmers reap the maximum economic benefit from their trees by producing high quality hardwood," he said. "Poplar, for example, can produce exquisite musical instruments such as harpsichords and violins as well as furniture. But the end use of the timber is totally dependent on the way the trees are grown and managed."
The EU expects that many farmers will choose to plant poplars on surplus land. Some eight million hectares of European land will be taken out of agricultural production during the next few years.