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Assessing the Nut and Fruit Resource
   

Land Use Classification

The potential land resource available for nut and fruit production is calculated from the total agricultural land resource of approximately 4 479 000 ha (CSO data 2013). This area can be broken down into 5 categories:

Category of Land
Hectares

Hectares → Exports (%)

Tillage land (land currently used for crops)¹
378 000
225 000 (60)
Historical tillage land currently used for silage or hay²
622 000
530 000 (85)
Other land used for silage or hay ³
666 000
530 000 (80)
Pasture
2 338 000
1 750 000 (75)
Rough Grazing
474 000
355 000 (75)
Total Agricultural Land
4 478 000
3 390 000 (75)

Hectares → Exports = the approximate area of land used to produce the portion of output aimed at export markets (including production of grain for animal feed)
¹ Includes existing orchards and nurseries (approx 1 500 ha). The largest portion (over 250 000 ha) is used to produce crops for animal feed. A further 25 000 ha is used for the production of crops for beverages (mainly for whisky and beer)
² Presumed to be the higher quality portion of the land used  for silage and hay
³ Presumed to be the lower quality portion of the land used for silage and hay

Under the Nut and Fruit scenario, land used to produce outputs geared to export markets (beef, lamb, milk, or feedstuff for animals produced for export markets) is seen as potentially available for crops aimed at domestic consumption. The export food trade is underpined by non-sustainable subsidies and an equally unsustainable heavy resource footprint (for example embodied energy, finite resource depletion, carbon emissions). Ireland produces ten times more beef than it can use itself, six times more milk, and three to four times more lamb. Yet only about 35 percent of the food currently eaten in Ireland is produced here. Change is inevitable. Scaled down to more sustainable levels, the food export trade may serve some strategic purpose but the priority would be to free up land to produce more food for domestic consumption.

Obviously, not all agricultural land is of the necessary quality or in the right location for developing for nut or fruit orchards. The soil may be too poor, or the locality too windy or too wet, or too prone to late spring frosts. Based on existing knowledge of the typical quality and regional location of the land in each of the categories listed above, some reasonable estimates can be made as to the proportion that might be suitable for orchards (see table below).

Category of Land

Hectares → Exports

Hectares → Orchards (%)

Tillage land
225 000
112 000 (50)
Historical tillage land currently used for silage or hay
530 000
132 000 (25)
Other land used for silage or hay
530 000
80 000 (15)
Pasture
1 750 000
80 000 (<5)
Rough Grazing
355 000
3 000 (<1)
Total Land
3 390 000
407 000 (12)

Hectares → Orchards = the approximate area of land suitable for orchards, with the estimated percentage of the total land in that category

Total agricultural land potentially suitable for orchards = 407 000 ha
Total agricultural land allocated to orchards = 135 000 ha (33% of the total identified as suitable)

For the purposes of this study, only one third of the land currently used for export markets and potentially suitable for orchards (approximately 100 000 ha), is actually allocated for orchards. This provides a generous reserve capacity. The actual breakdown might look something this:

Crop
Area (ha)
Yield/ha²
Gross Yield²
Edible %
Net Yield²
kcal/tonne
Total kcal (106)
Apples¹
20 000
12.5
250 000
85
212 500
400 000
85 000
Cobnuts (hazelnut)
80 000
1.5
120 000
38
45 600
6 500 000
296 400
Walnuts
20 000
2.0
40 000
43
17 200
6 900 000
118 680
Chestnuts
15 000
2.0
30 000
84
25 200
1 300 000
32 760
Total
135 000
 
532 840
Ireland's total food calorie requirements for one year ³
4 292 400
 
Proportion of national food energy requirements provided by nuts and fruit in this scenario = 12.4%

¹ For the purposes of this study, fruit is limited to apples. However, production of pears , plums and cherries on a large scale would also be feasable.
² Tonnes. In many cases, the yields per ha would be considerably higher. Typical yields under intensive regimes are as follows: apples 25 tonnes/ha (Ireland); cobnuts/hazelnuts 3 tonnes/ha (France); walnuts 3.4 tonnes/ha (France); chestnuts 3.4 tonnes/ha (France).
³ Based on current national per capita food supply of 3600 kcal per day (FAO data) with assumed 33 percent wastage hence per capita consumption of 2400 kcal per day. Population 4.9 million. WHO dietary recommendations for food energy suggest that for a population with Ireland's age and gender profile, the average per capita requirement would be around 2050 kcal per day.

The same calculations for protein are as follows:

Crop
Area (ha)
Yield/ha²
Gross Yield²
Edible %
Net Yield²
Protein(g/tonne)
Total protein (g x106)
Apples¹
20 000
12.5
250 000
85
212 500
4 000
850
Cobnuts (hazelnut)
80 000
1.5
120 000
38
45 600
141 000
6430
Walnuts
20 000
2.0
40 000
43
17 200
147 000
2528
Chestnuts
15 000
2.0
30 000
84
25 200
20 000
504
Total
135 000
 
10 312
Ireland's total protein requirements for one year ³
63 813
 
Proportion of national food energy requirements provided by nuts and fruit in this scenario = 16.2%

¹ For the purposes of this study, fruit is limited to apples.
² Tonnes.
³ Based on WHO recommended protein requirements and taking into consideration Ireland's population demographic. The actual amount of protein eaten in contemporary Ireland is likely to be higher.

Additional Outputs

Many of the orchard land allocated above would be suitable for low density livestock (for example sheep, pigs, geese, small breeds of cow) thereby providing additional food outputs. The sustainable level of grazing would be around 0.40 LU/ha (Livestock units per hectare). 1 LU is equivalent of 1 dairy cow, 5-6 sheep, 3-4 sows or about 40 geese. Providing the trees were protected from potential damage from rubbing or grazing, the low density grazing of orchards would help recycle tree nutrients as well as reduce the incidence of persistant diseases such as canker and scab.

In the early years of orchard establishment, the orchards could also be used for alley crops: crops grown between the lines of trees. Crops suitable for alley cultivation include grains and vegetables, as well as soft fruit.

Acorns

Throughout human history, acorns from oak trees have been a valuable source of food, both for people and livestock. the Until recent times, the people of the Mediterranean and Western Asian regions have included the sweet acorns of the evergreen oaks as part of their diet. In many of these countries, the same acorns were also used to help fatten pigs. This practise continues to this day in the Dehesa and Montado of Spain and Portugal. Although acorns are not included in the calculations above, their potential should not be underestimated. Nutritional information is provided in the table below.

Nutritional comparison of nut and tillage crops
  Composition per 100g (grams unless stated)
 
Calories (kcal)
Carbohydrate
Fat (Lipids)
Protein
Water
Potatoes, boiled
75
17.8
0.3
1.5
80
Chestnuts (steamed)
131
27.8
1.4
2.0
68
Oatmeal, raw
375
66.0
9.2
11.2
8
Cobnuts (hazelnuts)
650
6.0
63.5
14.1
5
Walnuts
688
3.3
68.5
14.7
3
Acorns (raw)*
387
40.1
24.9
6.1
28
*Source: US Department of Agriculture. Figures are for acorns from N.American oak species. There is considerable variation - particularly in fat content - between different species.

Conclusions

On the basis of land suitability and projected changes in climate as a consequence of global warming, Ireland could easily produce over ten percent of its dietary energy requirements from nut and fruit orchards. The same is true for protein. However, the realistic lead time, from the moment this objective became national policy, would probably be 30-40 years. Therein lies the problem. Contemporary globalised agricultural policy works to a very short time horizon: typically only 3-5 years. Although the risks and consequences of global warming are understood at official level - after all, Ireland, along with all other EU states, is a signatory to the IPCC - there seems a complete disconnect when it comes to agricultural policy. Here, Business-as-Usual is king.

Does the allocation of 135 000 hectares of land for orchards seem crazy? If it does, compare it with over three million hectares of agricultural land (complete with annual subsidies of two billion euro, and imported animal feedstuff requirements of two million tonnes each year, plus a further three hundred thousand tonnes of artificial fertiliser) currently devoted to serving export markets, while Ireland imports nearly two thirds of the food it eats. Craziness is relative.

More information and analysis will be provided in the near future.

Visions of Future Food Production