Commercial forestry is worth more than 200% per hectare than upland sheep farming, according to a new study.
The study, which compared the productivity and economic impact of forestry to upland farming in the 20,000 hectare (ha) Eskdalemuir area of Dumfries and Galloway, was commissioned by the Confederation of Forest Industries (Confor) and carried out by SAC Consulting in the second half of 2013.
“This report is crystal clear in saying that commercial forestry is a very significant economic activity in rural Scotland. It also highlights a major opportunity for farmers,” said Confor chief executive Stuart Goodall.
“Against a background of downward pressure on Common Agricultural Policy subsidies, forestry provides an alternative that is more productive, more sustainable and far less reliant on public subsidy than sheep farming. We would, therefore, encourage more sheep farmers to consider planting trees.”
The study found that the annual output per hectare for forestry was £503.69 – 226.5% more than that achieved from upland sheep farming at £154.27 per hectare.
It also estimated the annual output per employee for forestry at £122,047, compared to £37,110 for upland sheep farming, which according to the study requires a public subsidy of £22,600 for every full-time equivalent employee every year to survive.
Confor board member and forestry agent at Bidwells Raymond Henderson said: “This report does not set out to denigrate upland farming, nor is it a cry to cover all of our hills with new forests.
“It is to provide some evidence of the real social and economic justification behind the ambitions of the Scottish Government and the forest industry to create a further 60,000 hectares of this forest type over the next 10 years.”
NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller said commercial woodland was part of the rural economy, but food production was its cornerstone.
“The full plethora of benefits delivered by livestock production appear to have escaped the attention of the survey,” he said.
“That is disappointing when farming provides the lifeblood to so many communities in Scotland, supporting the retention of public services and drawing cash into rural areas every day.
“That is something that large scale commercial forestry, with its focus on planting and harvesting – and the many years in-between – cannot offer.”