8 September 1995

Make it an integral part of the business

Rules allowing tree planting on set-aside improve the scope for farm timber. But there is far more to profiting from farm woodlands as Charles Abel reports

ARABLE land entered into forestry planting schemes can now count towards set-aside obligations. That is good news for growers, helping them to further offset the costs of establishment.

But creating a successful plantation demands more than a positive cash flow in the early years, warn forestry experts. Careful planning, including consideration of tree managemen, extraction and target markets is vital.

Tree planting should be seen as a strategic decision, not simply a way of employing set-aside, explains Chris Wait, woodlands consultant with ADAS at Wolver-hampton. It should be an integral part of the farm business, designed as a long-term asset.

"The new scheme gives up to 15 years of support," says Bede Howell of Abbey Forestry and a member of the Royal Forestry Society. "If you know the right tricks you can come out of it with money in hand for later maintenance.

"But it is important to decide what you want and plan your planting and management with that in mind," advises Mr Howell. "Mixed objectives lead to confused management and mistakes which can jeopardise the whole project.

"Plantings need to be accessible for management and planned for extraction. Tree rows should be arranged in a herringbone around a central ride," says Mr Howell.

FWPS rules permit 20% of the planting to be in "glades" and 10% down to non-woody shrubs. That allows plenty of scope for rides and tree-free perimeters to ease management, prevent crop shading and avoid interference with hedgerows.

Mechanical access is also vital. "I am sure that within 10 years we will be looking at mechanical thinning and chipping on the spot."

Aiming to profit from trees on set-aside (left to right): Nigel Rylance, Bede Howell, Alan Spedding and Robert Lockhart.