I'M STANDING in what Michael Sweeney describes as the best 'pension plan' you can possibly have in these fickle times high up in Ballahantourig, Scartaglin.
The asset is spread all around, over 21 hectares, on land belonging to Neilly Cronin and it's hard to imagine a pension plan more enjoyable toexperience as it appreciates in value. The sizeable forest — mostly Sitka spruce — certainly looks and smells better than a portfolio of figures and it's clear that Neilly Cronin is quite taken with this part of his financial future.
Forests have come in for some stick in recent years for their effect on the landscape, but Neilly has taken care to keep his back from homes and interspersed with larch to break the uniform effect of the conifers.
A builder in the good times, he had recourse to the services of Glin native and Select Forest owner Michael Sweeney. For a nice share of the grant aid, Michael took on board the entire process of establishing the forest on Neilly's land.
In turn, he employed Scartaglin forester contractor Jerome Browne to carry out the planting and annual maintenance.
"Forestry can get a bad press but it's fantastic for the local economy and this is a perfect example of it. Between 2000 and 2003 we planted the 21 hectares, or 50 acres, for Neilly. Jerome employs two men fulltime in his company and he purchases all the materials locally, so that's a lot of money going into the local economy."
For his part, Jerome loves the work. "It's wonderful, especially as it ties in nicely with the farming season."
The process is fairly straightforward; particularly if you have good land for forest. Michael said that grass rush ground is among the best.
Plant in year one, carry out the first thinning after 15 years, the second after 20 and the third after 25 before clearfell of the entire plantation after 30 years. Apart from the value of the lumber, this nets Neilly a premium per annum of roughly €175 per acre for Sitka; €185 per acre for the Ash.
"Sitka is the most lucrative by a mile," Michael explained. Neilly's spruce wood will eventually make it to Granger's sawmill in Enniskeane where it will be used for rafters, pallets, stakes and chipboard among other things; the Ash will be used for firewood, hurleys and furniture and the little Larch planted will also find itself turned into stakes.
"I'm damn glad of it now," Neilly explained.
"We used to build but obviously that went overnight and it was a very uncertain time. Having the forest at least gives us much greater security. There are good prices being got for wood now and there will always be a need for it."
One thing is key, however, as Jerome points out. "Good forest management is vital. I've been into a lot of forests that look good from the outside but as soon as you get into them you know they've been poorly maintained. Maintenance is a vital part of the job. I must say I love this job. I started planting in 1987 so my first forests are now mature and it's nice to see, especially on a site that's well minded."