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'First thinning should be all about quality'


Tom Cunningham

Tom Cunningham

Tom Cunningham

Tom Cunningham planted 12ha of mainly Sitka spruce and Norway spruce in 1996 in Keelogues, Glinsk in Co Galway.

The farmer told how his forest thrived with only a few replacements needed in the early years.

He receives an annual forestry payment of nearly €5,000 per year for the first 20 years.

The IFA member told how he started to prepare for thinning when the forest was 17 years old. With the help of his forestry consultant Joe Doyle, he applied for a General Felling Licence and a forest road grant.

As his forest was in two blocks, he needed to have two roads accessing both plots.

The felling licence was approved for a five-year period. Tom said it is great that the licence remains valid for five years. "It allows plenty of scope to get the job done," he said.

He also urged people to carefully compare road building quotes and "make sure that the road is well built. Poorly [cheaply] built roads can collapse later on".

Although the building of forest roads is exempt from planning permission, the creation of an access from the forest road to a public road must be approved by the relevant Planning Authority. He needed planning permission from Galway County Council, which cost him around €1,000.

Earlier this year, he contacted a number of sawmills and harvesting contractors.

After doing his homework, comparing quotes and checking references, he agreed a price of €10 per tonne with Robert Brennan of Williamstown in Co Galway.

The agreement was to harvest one row in seven with selective thinning in the other rows removing the smaller or poorly formed trees. About 400 tonnes of timber was harvested so he made €4,000 from his first thinning.

Tom mentioned that some people told him that €10/t was too low. "It is much more important that it is correctly thinned and that the job is done well rather than getting the highest possible price."

That is very wise. First thinning should be all about improving the quality of your growing asset. This is done by removing inferior trees while allowing the valuable trees to grow to full maturity. Don't be tempted to sell off the family silver for short term gain.

He also provided a couple of useful pointers. First of all, watch out for theft. It is well worth to erect a fence to make stealing of timber more difficult. And secondly, watch out for illegal dumping.

Tom has learned a lot by organising and supervising his first thinning. He is very pleased with the experience gained, the financial return as well as the improved access into and through his forest.

The thinning has also improved the quality of his forest. Tom expects to thin his forest again in three to five years' time and to earn a bit more next time.

Indo Farming