Building broadleafed woods at a profit

There has not been a big tradition of planting broadleaved woods on arable land but yesterday farmers were advised of the considerable advantages from putting small areas of trees on their best land.

Scottish Agricultural College woodland specialist Jim Reilly said that, quite apart from increasing the capital value of a farm, returns from woodlands could compare with arable crops.

“The value of a well-managed oak plantation of one or two hectares can equal that of many an arable crop,” he said. “The only major difference is the time scale, with upwards of 100 years needed for oak to come to maturity, so it needs a different mindset.

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“Such woodland can be economically viable on even a relatively small scale area. Like producing quality stock, however, it takes time and management.

“Broadleaf woodland is well suited to lowland arable situations. If correctly sited and managed, it can bring multiple benefits. It will add to the capital value of the farm and it will provide a profit.”

Reilly stated that a conservative value of a stand of oak at maturity was around £25,000 per hectare but if the stand had been well managed that could rise to £45,000 per hectare.

The marketing of hardwoods in Scotland produces an irony in that the more that is produced, the better the price will be. Reilly explained that, on the continent, where hardwoods are more plentiful, there are more local sawmills that can handle the wood and the price is two or three times the price of hardwood in this country. Until more wood is produced we will not have that infrastructure.

The current position was that most of lowland Scotland was now in agricultural use and little naturally-growing, native broadleaf woodland remained. Where there was planted woodland, either mixtures of broadleaf trees and conifers or conifer only blocks, this had usually been established with single objectives in mind, such as providing shelter for livestock.

The problem was that the neglect of older woodland, the planting of widely spaced native woodlands and the misuse of conifers meant many of today’s woodlands had little economic value.

Reilly’s aim, demonstrated at a farm outside Montrose yesterday, was to show how high-quality, high-value native broadleaf woodland could be planned, sited and managed. If these operations were done correctly, he said, it would change the assumption that farm woodland reaps little financial reward.

Most hardwoods such as oak, birch, ash, sycamore and cherry do well in Scotland but if there are grey squirrel populations around, some species, such as beech, are best avoided. Other pests that required control included rabbits, voles and roe deer.

Helping the financial equation for the first 15 years of growth are Scottish Government grants that compensate for loss of earnings for displaced arable crops.

“Most farmers will be eligible for grants under the Scottish rural development programme rural priorities fund and that helps the cash flow situation,” said Reilly.

Another incentive is value from thinned immature wood, with more people looking for fuel for wood-burning stoves and central heating systems.