Thursday 29 September 2016

Sorting the wood from the trees

Teagasc has added more dates to its nationwide series of forestry clinics

Steven Meyen

Published 03/02/2016 | 02:30

The bulk of the management questions focus on preparing for thinning. Forest owners want to know how the thinning process works, what the value is of timber and how to organise a timber sale. Photo: Teagasc.
The bulk of the management questions focus on preparing for thinning. Forest owners want to know how the thinning process works, what the value is of timber and how to organise a timber sale. Photo: Teagasc.

Teagasc's forestry advisory clinics are now in full swing. Initially, 38 clinics had been planned but in the meantime, several more dates had to be added in an effort to meet the demand. There is clearly a need for independent and confidential forestry advice.

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As could be expected, the queries that are coming up so far at the Forestry Clinics can be broadly sorted into two categories: landowners who are investigating the possibility of planting some land and forest owners who want to find out how to better manage their existing forests.

Research

These clinics are a very valuable tool in assisting landowners tease out important issues about the potential fo their land for forestry. This enables landowners to make informed decisions understanding the implications, advantages and disadvantages of the different schemes.

Establishing a forest is a one way street and it is important to understand what you are letting yourself in for. Teagasc advisors can assist you answering important questions. For instance, do you want to maximise the income from your forest?

In that case, you should consider establishing a commercial crop such as Sitka spruce. Although the annual payment for the first 15 years is attractive, the bulk of the income will be generated after 30 to 40 years when the timber matures and a clearfell can be considered.

If your focus is more on maximising the ecological value of the woodland then you may be more interested in creating a native woodland.

In this case, the first 15 annual payments are higher but the long-term income from a commercial timber crop is not there and a clearfell cannot be allowed.

Other establishment options include the new grant-aided Agroforestry and Forestry for Fibre schemes.

Once your local Forestry Advisor better understands your requirements and objectives, a discussion takes place. This will decide if your land is likely to be eligible for forestry grant aid, guide you through the maze of options, their pros and cons, the effect on other farm schemes, explain the various steps of making a grant application and how to ensure that the job gets done right first time.

Forest management

Forestry is very similar to any other farm enterprise: it needs looking after. The better a forest is looked after, the better it will deliver. Even simply going for a walk and keeping an eye on things will prevent a minor issue becoming a serious problem later on.

The bulk of the management questions centre nowadays around forests that are coming up for thinning. Forest owners want to know how the thinning process works, what the value is of timber and how to organise a timber sale.

Selling timber is quite similar to bringing cattle to the mart. When you bring cattle to the mart you'll have a fairly good idea of the grade and the money you hope to make when offering the animal for sale.

Forestry is the same - you need to understand the product you're selling.

Steven Meyen is a Teagasc forestry advisor email: steven.meyen@teagasc.ie

Potential returns and other forestry essentials

Income streams

It will come as no surprise that one of the most common topics discussed at the Forestry Clinics are income streams. When a commercial timber crop is planted, it is important to understand when and how income is generated. The Teagasc forestry financial calculator (FIVE) is a valuable tool in this regard providing indicative returns. This is a very valuable exercise so that landowners have a better and realistic appreciation when income is generated from a forest enterprise.

GLAS

The interaction with other farm schemes (see panel) is another frequent and very important topic of discussion, e.g. the interaction of GLAS with farm forestry.

Surprisingly, several farmers who had land already committed to GLAS, intended to consider forestry on the same area. This is not possible. If you are interested in the forestry option, make sure not to commit those particular land parcels to GLAS.

Basic Payment Scheme

Many people want to know if planting forestry would impact on their BPS entitlements. The good news is that BPS entitlements will continue to be paid on the planted area if certain criteria continue to be met (see panel).

Native Woodland Establishment

Although the majority of landowners investigate the commercial plantation option, a surprising number of landowners are particularly interested in the Native Woodland establishment option: especially landowners considering planting a small area or where the land may have protective status.

Rather than focusing on the production of a commercial timber crop, the aim of the Native Woodland establishment option is to support the creation of new native woodland.

Not only will an ecologically rich, biodiverse woodland be created but such a woodland will also protect and enhance water quality and create important linkages between different habitats and across the landscape.

Timber sales

As mentioned earlier, selling timber is similar to bringing cattle to the mart. As a farmer, you'll have a fairly good idea of the grade and the money you hope to make.

First thing that is required is to cut inspection paths. This allows you to inspect the different 'grades' of the timber (in forestry, these are called the 'timber assortments') and understand local timber prices.

You'll also want to know the volume per timber assortment you have growing there.

If you attended a Teagasc timber measurement course, you can measure the timber yourself or pay a forestry consultant to do this on your behalf. Once you have this information, the timber sales process can start. If you don't know the above, you're flying blind.

Access, forest roads

As the loading of timber is illegal on public roads, even small forests will require road construction to provide timber loading areas.

This may require planning permission. Luckily enough, attractive roading grants are available from the Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM).

Rights of Way are also a common topic. Where this is proving to be an issue, it is very worthwhile to see if cooperation with a neighbouring forest owner is possible. Additional funding may be available to facilitate this cooperation.

Felling licences

A felling licence is required before timber harvesting can take place. This licence usually remains valid for a period of five years. Apply well in advance to the Forest Service (DAFM).

Thinning broadleaves

Broadleaf woodland owners are enquiring how and when to thin broadleaves. Thinning is an essential operation to produce quality broadleaf timber. Unmanaged broadleaf crops will have very low value.

The trees in broadleaf forests have greater variety in form and vigour than in conifer forests.

The emphasis is therefore on the selection and management of quality stems for final crop trees.

This operation is usually carried out when the trees reach six to eight metres in height dependent on the species.

A fixed grant of up to €750/ha is available under the Woodland Improvement Scheme from the Forest Service (DAFM).

Forestry and exisiting farm schemes/entitlements

Eligibility for Forestry  Premium Payments

The new Forestry Programme 2014-2020 does not differentiate between 'farmer' and 'non farmer' premium rates. Enhanced premiums are available over a 15-year period.

Forestry and the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS)

Eligible land planted with forestry since 2009 and which will be afforested under the new Forestry Programme 2014-2020 can be used to activate BPS entitlements.

Forestry and Greening

While all farmers are required to comply with greening requirements, the majority will automatically qualify for the Greening Payment based on current farming practices (ie permanent pasture).

Arable farmers may have additional commitments. For example, arable farmers with more than 15 hectares of arable land must ensure that at least 5pc of their arable land is an 'Ecological Focus Area' (EFA).

Forestry and Early Retirement Scheme (ERS)

The Early Retirement Scheme (ERS) is closed to new entrants and the new single category for forestry premium may act as an incentive to retired farmers to plant, particularly where lands they had leased to qualify under the ERS are returned to them.

Forestry and Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC)

This scheme has replaced the previous Disadvantaged Area Scheme. The current area threshold for Less/More Severely Handicapped Lowland is 30 hectares, while the equivalent for Mountain type grazing is 34 hectares.

Where farm size is above the relevant area threshold, there may be opportunities to maximise ANC payment on the threshold area and also plant some remaining land.

For farm holdings whose total eligible area is equal to or lower than these threshold areas (30 or 34 ha), planting some land would result in a pro-rata reduction in ANC payment.

Forestry and GLAS

The GLAS scheme is not a whole-farm scheme. Land parcels not associated with GLAS participation may be considered for the Afforestation Scheme.

However, once land parcels are committed to GLAS, they cannot be planted without claw-back of GLAS payments already made. Forward planning is therefore required for potential GLAS applicants, which may allow the planting option to be considered on appropriate land parcels before land is committed to GLAS.

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