At last we have a machine that is designed specifically for farm forests and mixed species woodland. It has been a long time coming but finally, after two decades of the current afforestation scheme, we now have a forwarder available that is specifically designed for Irish woods and Irish conditions.
Its arrival is timely as many farmers are about to commence first thinning. With an average plantation size of eight hectares, it is difficult to justify using the huge and costly machines that were formerly the only ones available.
The transport costs alone are prohibitive when moving such equipment and contractors are naturally reluctant to haul in to an area where they may have only one or two day's work.
In the past, woodland management and design in Ireland was based on the machinery that was available. We should of course have been doing it the other way around, managing our woods to achieve maximum growth rates and harvesting them economically by using appropriate equipment.
Darragh Hand of Falcon engineering in Dromone, Oldcastle, Co Westmeath, has a fine track record of producing machinery that farmers actually need. This latest product appears ideal for the task without the many drawbacks associated with traditional large equipment.
The Falcon F40 can carry four tonnes, has a crane reach of 5.3m and a ground clearance of 550mm. Its narrow width and 8500mm wide flotation tyres provide minimum ground compaction while ensuring it can comfortably work in difficult terrains.
In the past I have argued long and hard for the use of smaller, low ground pressure machinery that can extract timber without causing compaction or requiring wide extraction racks.
After watching standard harvesters and forwarders in my woods for a Forest Service demonstration, I realised that there had to be a better way.
Large machines are ideal for working in large conifer plantations of 20 ha or more but are simply not appropriate for the average farm forest. For years, I searched for a suitable alternative and eventually purchased a mini-forwarder and crane that is towed by a 500cc, 4wd quad.
This works very well in my Meath woodland where the ground is level and the stumps cut low. However, on other more challenging sites, it can struggle and the lack of good ground clearance can prove a major drawback as does the lack of a comfortable cab on cold wet winter days.
For the majority of farmers with smaller, mixed species woodland, the Falcon F40 appears to provide a solution to the problems of thinning and extracting economically and efficiently. Being relatively small and very manoeuvrable, it can work on sites where bigger forwarders could cause damage despite the drivers' best efforts.
Small woodland owners frequently ask me if I know of a contractor who can carry out thinning and extraction for them without using standard equipment.
They are concerned that the large machinery might cause damage to the soil and adjoining standing trees. They are also fearful of the cost of such an exercise if they have only perhaps seven or eight acres to thin.
This especially applies to owners of broadleaf woodland. Some have resorted to using horse extraction which is excellent if the distance from wood to roadside is short, but for longer distances, small forwarders with cranes are essential.
Eventually even smaller woodland owners will need to be certified if we are to retain access to the premium outlets for our produce. Environmental considerations are the key part of certification and machines such as the F40 with their ability to extract timber with a 'light touch' will be increasingly in demand.
The public launch of the F40 took place recently at Pat Lynch's Reynella house near Delvin, Co Westmeath, and, despite strong wind and driving rain, a large crowd turned up to see it in action.
We were able to watch Darragh Hand put it through its paces while we sheltered in the comfort of a marquee. Prior to this, Mairead McGuinness MEP, that indefatigable supporter of the farmers cause, entertained us to an excellent speech before officially launching the F40.
Reynella farm holds excellent mixed species woodland which was originally designed and planted by Donal Keegan, who at that time worked for the Woodland Group.
Donal also helped establish my own woods in Meath and now works as Forest Service Inspector for Co Galway. He should be proud of his past achievements as the woods both at Reynella and on my own farm won the RDS forestry award in subsequent years.
The trees have grown remarkably well since I was last at Reynella some years ago for an RDS awards launch and no doubt the Falcon F40 will be among them soon, extracting valuable thinnings.
For further details check out www.falconforwarder.com or phone/fax 044 9666919.