Farm Ireland

Friday 24 February 2017

Branch out in the right way

Joe Barry

Joe Barry

When planting trees, it is worth taking note of the following, for if you get the process wrong your mistakes will be evident for many years to come. It is essential to follow the recommended guidelines on species selection, site, provenance, site preparation, fencing, drainage and nutrition if the crop's full potential is to be achieved.

1Plan one year ahead: If possible, plan at least a year in advance of planting and ensure that the sites chosen are accessible and will benefit the remainder of the farm. I must by now be sounding like a cracked record from repeatedly urging landowners to learn about forestry before embarking on planting. Trees are a lifetime crop and if you get the process wrong at the beginning it can be very expensive to correct your mistakes.

2Choose your site carefully: The next task is to choose the species that will best suit those sites. There are many awful plantations around the country that were planted with little thought other than to maximise premium income and they will never pay a dividend in the longer term. Some poorly established broad-leaved plantations will prove to be little more than a liability, as will conifers planted in places so remote that harvesting and extraction may never take place.

3Get the right stock: Nowadays, farmers who plant trees have the great advantage of being able to profit from the knowledge that has accumulated since the beginning of the current scheme.

This knowledge is especially valuable in relation to planting trees that are only of proven provenance and learning how to mix species in a manner that will help them benefit each other. Get the best stock possible, for you will be looking at them for many years to come, and make sure they are planted with care. I have heard of some contractors favouring the purchase of 'seconds' or trees of smaller root structure and size. This is understandable as they are far easier to plant than larger specimens, but they do not have the same growth potential.

4Finish planting in March: Try to finish the work, if possible, by the end of March, as droughts in May can cause large losses in newly established plantations that have not had time to establish a root structure. I have always felt uneasy at using trees from cold storage which are often availed of as a tool to extend the time for planting. I have seen trees planted as late as June and feel this is both risky and unnecessary. Surely it is better to wait until the following autumn when the job can be completed properly.

5Install paths: Be sure to put in inspection paths through your conifers, for no harvester will come into a wood without a clear knowledge of what lies inside.

By installing these paths, farmers and their contractors can see what the crop is like throughout the plantation and not just the first 20 or so metres from the roadside.

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Without proper access, it is simply not worth a contractor's effort to attempt to harvest and remove timber -- and the owner suffers as a consequence.

Now that the roading grants have been reinstated, albeit at a slightly reduced rate, anyone without suitable access should ensure that they avail of the grants and install a proper harvesting road.

This should be done at least two years prior to first thinning to allow the road to settle and enable prior inspection to take place.

6Plan your cashflow: Early thinnings spaced out over four visits from a well-managed and well- grown Sitka spruce plantation should bring in around €3,000-€4,000/ha.

Final clearfell at 35-40 years should produce €10,000-15,000/ha.

All of these figures are for good, properly managed plantations only. Poorly managed woodland may well yield little or nothing, with some in inaccessible areas possibly never being harvested.

Indo Farming