Farm Ireland

Tuesday 19 March 2019

Bureaucracy is crippling forestry sector's potential

Minister of State for Forestry, Andrew Doyle.
Minister of State for Forestry, Andrew Doyle.
Joe Barry

Joe Barry

Forestry conferences can be tiresome affairs with the only benefits being the opportunity to meet with fellow timber growers and share ideas during the breaks.

Happily the most recent one I attended, organised by the Society of Irish Foresters and the Wood Marketing Federation was a notable exception to the rule and produced encouraging information on the progress of forestry in Ireland.

Unlike many other farming sectors, forestry is prospering and is now accepted as an established and profitable farm enterprise. It was good to hear our new Minister of State for Forestry, Andrew Doyle (pictured), speak knowledgeably on his brief and also announce the measures being taken to facilitate the construction of new forest roads.

Even better, we now have a minister who clearly understands forestry and who comes from Wicklow, a county where woodland plays a huge part in the local economy.

The supply of timber from the farming sector has become very important for sawmills and the emergence of forest owners' groups has played a large part in helping farmers get the best prices available.

With an average plantation size of 8ha, it is not easy to manage these individually. Contractors with huge and very expensive machinery can only afford to work on large sections of woodland but through local cooperation and the "clustering" of smaller woods, thinning and harvesting is now being carried out economically and on time.

The production of woodchip from private woodlands is another rapidly expanding business and again, through pooling resources, local groups are making the most of this opportunity.

It is worth remembering that CAP subsidies are keeping livestock farming going whereas, once woodland has been established, forestry becomes self-sufficient.

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It was amusing to hear Coillte employ a classic euphemism in reference to their selling of land for wind farms, data centres, tourism facilities and other requirements.

Their representative referred to Coillte "being a provider of land solutions for diverse projects". Don't you just love it? A masterpiece of political obfuscation if ever I heard one. I always considered that Coillte's vast landholding belonged to the State, ie you, me and all other Irish citizens.

I don't really have a problem with Coillte selling land for specific worthwhile projects but it would be more appropriate if their substantial profits from asset sales went towards replanting rather than taking land out of forestry.

Having said that, they do a brilliant job by allowing free public access to their woods and facilitating group visits while maintaining signs and walking routes to a high standard. This in turn helps greatly in assisting the public to learn more about the overall value of trees and woodland in the broader landscape.

While most of the speakers stressed the many advances that have been made in promoting Irish timber and the fact that it is now highly sought after for construction purposes, it appears there will be serious supply problems in the future.

Not enough farmers are planting trees and during question time at the conference, bureaucracy was cited as the main problem.

It was also stated that too much land is being clearfelled and not replanted, a further difficulty that only the Forest Service can deal with.

It is now 21 years since I first availed of an afforestation scheme and I can only say that it was a positive experience which subsequently turned out to have been a very fortunate investment.

The officials at that time seemed to be doing everything in their power to help farmers like me to plant and care for their trees. Nowadays it appears to be a different matter with endless red tape and difficulties being encountered when seeking felling licenses.

Overcoming spurious environmental objections was also quoted as a major handicap. It would almost seem that, perhaps due to a shortage of funding, lip service is being paid to encouraging planting while in effect, the opposite is the case. Through the imposition of a bewildering raft of rules and regulations, farmers are giving up in despair of ever being allowed to plant.

Planning permissions are required where they were not needed before and there are also issues relating to public access that have yet to be resolved. Our new Minister has a tough job on his hands but he looks to have the ability to deal with it. We wish him every success.

Why I stopped using glyphosate

I have mixed feelings about the the potential banning of glyphosate in the EU.

Over the years it has been an invaluable tool in ridding tillage fields of scutch grass and in controlling vegetation in freshly planted forestry land.

We have however already stopped using it due to problems in preventing slight spray drift on to young trees when carrying out grass control.

Last year I had to replace a number of beech trees which had been slow to come in to leaf and had tiny bonsai like buds.

I was told that this could have been due to the effect of even a minute amount of glyphosate reaching the stems and this seemed to confirm similar experiences of stunted beech in the past.

Formerly we also used to spray tree stumps with glyphosate to prevent regrowth following thinning but then found that neighbouring trees were beginning to look poorly and in some cases died.

At first I thought that this was related to some disease but on discussing the problem with other foresters, I was told that glyphosate is so effective, it could possibly translocate through the roots of the sprayed trees to those adjoining them.

Indo Farming