Government's energy and environmental policies will dictate long-term demand for timber by-products

Donal Whelan

The volume of timber forecast to come from forests in Ireland (RoI) in 2020 is almost 4m cubic metres, of which c1.25m cubic metres will come from private and farm forests.

That is 25pc more timber coming to market than in 2017 (the last year for which output figures are available). Virtually all of the increase in timber supply will come from privately owned forests.

By 2025 the Irish timber supply forecast is for over 5.6 million cubic metres. Half of this (c. 2.86 million cubic metres) is set to come from our private forests.

Will there be a market for this timber?

Timber is a currently a valuable commodity and timber demand in Ireland has remained strong despite the effects of a weaker Sterling since June 2016 and concerns surrounding Brexit.

While roundwood prices have come back somewhat in recent months, they are still strong by international standards and the future looks bright from recent work undertaken by the COFORD Council for Forest Research and Development.

The COFORD Wood Mobilisation and Production Forecasting Group published an important report last November 2018, 'Wood Supply and Demand on the Island of Ireland to 2025'. It looked at the supply and demand for wood on the island of Ireland to 2025.

It forecast a continuing supply shortage for sawlog and stakewood of 730,000 cubic metres up to 2020.

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After 2020, the supply position is expected to ease, so that by 2025, it is predicted that an annual sawlog and stakewood harvest of 4.11 million cubic metres will meet sawmill demand.

Looking to the wood-based panel and wood energy sectors, the report also predicts increased demand for those sectors, especially on the energy side.

Energy, however, is the largest and most uncertain element of the wood supply demand equation.

Based on work undertaken by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), the annual wood supply gap in the Republic could be upwards of 1.4 million cubic metres by 2020, rising to 2.25 million cubic metres of a shortage in supply by 2025. Whether this level of demand will actually arise, and over what time, is uncertain. It depends not only on implementing government policy but also on fossil fuel prices and other factors.

Certification

The COFORD report shows that almost all of the projected sawlog supply increase will come from the private sector in Ireland. It acknowledges that realising this potential and getting all of this roundwood to market is a major challenge for the forest sector over the coming decade.

Ireland exports 80pc of its timber products and our export markets require these products to be certified to a recognised international Sustainable Forest Management Standard.

Timber processors can only use a maximum of 30pc non-certified wood in their log supply if they want to label their output as certified under the two main international forest Certification Schemes.

While Coillte forests and three private forestry group schemes have achieved certification, in future most large timber processors will be taking more than 30pc of their wood from private forests.

This will result in a critical need for forest certification among many additional private growers.

It will be a critical factor to ensure future access to international markets for Irish wood products.

Indo Farming


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