Western Forestry Co-op is the longest established forestry Co-op in Ireland. The Co-op was set up to provide a support structure to encourage farmers to afforest the marginal areas of their farms rather than selling the land to private investors. The Co-op believes that forestry can complement farming rather than replace it by providing an alternative income for unproductive agricultural land (wet mineral soils).
In early 1984 a delegation from the Forest & Wildlife Service came to Sligo to meet representatives of ICOS to explore how an afforestation programme for western farmers could be progressed through a Co-operative approach. This led to the setting up of the Western Forestry Co-operative Society in 1985 by ICOS and the then seven main dairy Co-ops in the West of Ireland.
The main objectives of the Western Forestry Co-operative are to:
- Improve farm income
- Create employment in remote rural areas
- To work with local community leadership to maximise the benefits of a planned forestry programme on rural development, community amenity, the landscape, tourism
In the early years Western Forestry Co-operative’s activities were concentrated on breaking down strong prejudices against forestry. In 1987 the first group afforestation project on 7 adjoining farms was planted by Western Forestry Co-op in Co. Sligo known as the Ballindoon Forest Group. This was used as a forestry demonstration unit with the farmers involved happy to be part of the promotional effort, despite the criticism of some of their neighbours. This resulted in the establishment within a radius of 5 miles of 18 other groups of farmers who planted approximately 800 acres of marginal farmland over the following 3 years. Some of these forests are being harvested and yielding returns of up to €10,000/acre income tax free.