New opportunities and cautionary steps? Farmers, forestry and rural development in Ireland
It is argued that European agriculture is currently confronted with a multitude of critical challenges and developmental changes, in which the viability of farms based solely on traditional forms of production applies only to a minority who can compete at the level and scale of global markets. The challenge to the remaining majority of farmers and to wider agricultural communities is to remain viable through adoption of alternative farm activities and enterprises under what is described as a multifunctional model of agriculture. One activity that is emerging as a realistic economic option under this rural restructuring is forestry. From an increasing range of policy perspectives within agriculture, rural development, environment, tourism and industry, forestry is becoming redefined as much more than a resource for primary production. It is also an activity which offers enormous potential as a secondary resource, particularly when its significance as an ecological, amenity, recreational and environmental reserve is successfully realised. However, evidence would suggest that Irish farmers have been particularly slow to embrace forestry as a potential resource. In what is generally accepted as a time of economic crisis for the agricultural sector, this paper explores the perceptions, attitudes and apparent reluctance of Irish farmers to engage in forestry as a viable farm enterprise. We assess this evidence against the prevailing EU and national policy context for forestry, particularly the range of incentives and/or barriers to forestry, and seek to establish if, and to what extent, reasons lie within the policy context, or whether farmers contest the notion of forestry as an agricultural activity for other, more ideological or practical, reasons.