Farm Ireland
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Friday 9 December 2016

Adopting the discussion group model

A forestry discussion group can help us small woodland owners boost our future earnings

Joe Barry

Published 23/11/2010 | 05:00

By sharing our knowledge and learning from the experiences of others, we can ensure a viable future for our small woods
By sharing our knowledge and learning from the experiences of others, we can ensure a viable future for our small woods
By sharing our knowledge and learning from the experiences of others, we can ensure a viable future for our small woods

A meeting of woodland owners was recently held in Co Meath to kickstart a producer group within the county.

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Hosted by Teagasc and facilitated by forestry adviser Kevin O'Connell, the event was well attended and, listening to the questions from the attendees, it was apparent that a 'self help' group of this nature is essential if we are to make the most of our woodlands.

We are all familiar with the truth of the saying "a problem shared is a problem halved". When we share our problems with others, the knowledge gained can often turn a potential difficulty into an opportunity.

There are producer groups all over Ireland where progressive and successful beef, dairy, tillage and sheep farmers meet to discuss the specific problems and opportunities of their respective businesses. It's time now to begin to take our woodland assets seriously, get to know our farm forestry neighbours and co-operate in managing our assets to the best advantage.

As Kevin pointed out, farmers with woodland need to learn a new language and familiarise themselves with the terminology connected with forestry.

There is too much negative talk going around about the difficulties of managing small woodlands, and surprisingly much of this talk often comes from people with professional forestry backgrounds. Perhaps this is because they have little or no experience in making the most of smaller planted areas. Many of them learned their trade managing huge tracts of conifers and often cannot visualise any system of forestry that does not include planting and clearfelling vast sections of Norway or Sitka spruce.

Coillte, the guardians of some 8pc of our land, are wedded to the concept of what is often described as industrial forestry, which requires clearfelling huge coupes in one season. This system has been widely criticised but who can blame them when their remit is to maximise the financial return from the land?

Because of the size of their operation, they can justify bringing in costly harvesters and benefit from the economy of scale -- but this comes at a cost to the landscape.

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Many other European countries have abandoned clearfell, principally because the public demanded it and now insist on a gentler, 'close-to-nature' approach. This would include mixes of species planted to increase wildlife habitats and the planting of wind firm permanent edges to wooded areas, thereby avoiding the shock every 40 years or so of whole hillsides left looking like a battleground.

Planting large areas with one species, usually Sitka spruce, and clearfelling the lot 35-40 years later is an activity that pays. That is inarguable. However, it is an option not open to those of us that own smaller wooded areas that may have poor access or contain mixes of species that require differing management systems.

By sharing our knowledge and learning from the experiences of others, we can ensure a viable future for our small woods. In the US, Britain and mainland Europe, thousands of farmers are making their woodland pay without any outside financial assistance. If we open our eyes to the opportunities for marketing our produce we can do the same.

Irish Independent



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