Timing is everything when harvesting timber

Failing to prepare properly for felling and harvesting can cost forestry owners dearly

Many forest owners are now planning their harvest five years or more in advance
Many forest owners are now planning their harvest five years or more in advance

Donal Whelan

AT this time of the year, many of the mushrooms in your woodlands may have appeared overnight, but your trees didn't - they took years to tend and grow to reach thinning or felling stage. This timeframe facilitates planning, but human nature being what it is, planning can often be sacrificed to more immediate concerns.

For woodland owners, failing to plan ahead and in particular failing to plan your forest harvest can cost dearly. This is for a range of reasons, such as benefiting from the favourable taxation regime for forestry, to timely planning of forest access, construction of forest roads and obtaining a felling licence.

The timing of selling your timber is also critical. Timber prices fluctuate, often considerably, over time. An individual forest owner cannot control the timber market, but if they are prepared in advance and in a position to sell their timber when prices are high - without having to wait to construct an entrance, forest road or get a felling licence - they can make the most of any favourable market conditions.

Many forest owners are now planning their harvest five years or more in advance. They are planning access, forest roading and applying for a Felling Licence to thin/fell their woodlands to ensure they can harvest when their crop is suitably mature and where timber markets are good. This planning and preparedness is essential for timber growers who have plantations approaching thinning and felling stages.

Once you have put the planning in place, the two biggest issues in roundwood sales and associated harvesting operations are a clearly defined and comprehensive sale/harvest agreement and the accounting and security of timber movements during a sale.

Roundwood sales

The standard sales method for thinning and felling in the private sector is usually based on weight by an agreed price per tonne. When sold on a weight basis the forest owner will only get paid for that timber weighed and accounted for over a weighbridge.

It is vital that roundwood sales are agreed between parties by having a comprehensive contract before commencement and that there is a secure system in place for accounting for roundwood removals from the forest.

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To assist forest owners in the thinning, felling and timber sales processes the Irish Timber Growers Association (ITGA) published a Template Tree Sales Agreement. This is a template for growers to adapt to their particular timber sale and forest. It is structured under various headings for clarity and ease of use.

The terms and conditions are designed to cover a range of potential sale situations and forest types and include definitions, warranties, possible payment terms, right of access, felling, harvesting and removal, indemnity and insurance, compliance, risk, duration and termination, health and safety issues, environmental conditions, force majeure and an arbitration clause.

In the recent past the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine have circulated this Template Tree Sales Agreement with Felling Licences to assist growers in the thinning, felling and the timber sale process. It is always prudent to use a good contract and get professional advice before embarking on a timber sale.

Irish Timber Growers Association also developed a Model Timber Sales Dispatch System, which is referenced in the Template Sale Agreement, to aid accounting for roundwood movement in such timber sales. The Template Tree Sales Agreement and the Model Timber Sales Dispatch System are available on www.itga.ie/downloads.asp.

Donal Whelan is technical director of the Irish Timber Growers Association

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