Booming ventures show cash can be made from timber
Kerry business typifies success in sector
I spent a few days recently touring around Cork and Kerry and meeting farmers, foresters, sawmillers and contractors, all of whom were busy making a good living from trees. It was a wonderful trip and really exciting to see how the afforestation scheme of the early 1990s has created a new industry with sustainable jobs in planting, thinning, harvesting and final processing, both on the farm and in the sawmill.
My guide was Michael Sweeny, from Select Forest Ltd, who has been working with farmers and forestry investors in the Republic for years, and he showed me countless examples of how good management is rewarding woodland owners.
Both Michael and I agreed that reading newspapers and listening to the radio these days would make anyone think that nothing positive or successful ever happens in Ireland, but there are many good news stories out there.
Unfortunately, bad news sells papers and while we hear endless tales of people in financial difficulty, the reality is that the vast majority are working away quietly and, while conditions may be tough, they are still making their businesses pay.
One man we visited was Dan Foran, who farms about three miles from Listowel. Dan planted around 55ha in 1994 with around 40ha of spruce and 15ha of hardwoods.
Previously, he had been dairying and kept a suckler herd but was dissatisfied with the returns he was then getting.
Having a love of trees, he was attracted by the afforestation scheme and planted most of his farm.
This, of course, generated a certain amount of criticism, which in those days was common in Ireland, but now, with a few years of his premium payments still to come, he is thinning his woodland and earning a decent income.