Forestry owners work together to reap benefits

Opinions differ on whether to clearfell the forest when it reaches 30-years-old, as owners try to maximise the monies for the timber

Marina Conway of the Western Forestry Co-op and Donal Whelan of the Irish Timber Growers Association discuss timber quality at the recently held field day near Dromod,
Co Leitrim. Teagasc.
Marina Conway of the Western Forestry Co-op and Donal Whelan of the Irish Timber Growers Association discuss timber quality at the recently held field day near Dromod, Co Leitrim. Teagasc.
Steven Meyen

Steven Meyen

While the annual forestry payment of €510/ha for 15-years is one of the main carrots for people to get into forestry, the subsidies actually pale in comparison to the €700/ha you could be averaging over a 30-year period in timber sales.

This was one of the key messages at the most recent field day organised by the Western Forestry Co-op with the Irish Timber Growers Association (ITGA). Over 70 people attended from far and wide, including one intrepid traveller that journeyed over 330km by motorbike from Clonakilty.

It focused on the fortunes of the owners of small 2ha, 3ha and 7ha plots since they jointly decided to plant trees in 1989. The 12ha application was submitted by the Western Forestry Co-op under the Western Package Scheme.

From the very beginning, the advantages of working together became apparent. By joining together three small areas, establishment costs such as fencing and mounding were substantially reduced.

Management costs are also much lower on everything from vegetation control to inventory measurements later on.

Forest road construction is one of the most expensive outlays at €40-45/m plus VAT, but by working together only one forest road and stacking area was required, reducing construction costs dramatically - by as much as 66pc for each of the participants in this case. The site was planted with very productive Sitka spruce of excellent timber quality.

Victor Barber, operations manager with the Western Forestry Co-op, explained that the seed used here was of Queen Charlotte Islands (QCI) provenance.

Provenances can be a bit like cattle breeds - each provenance has its own advantages and disadvantages, but from what we saw on the day, this QCI was performing well.

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Preparing a forest for thinning takes time. First of all, you need to apply in good time for a General Felling Licence.

Then you will also want to check if you're eligible for a roading grant and if planning permission will be required.

It is also necessary to carry out an inventory prior to thinning and complete a management plan. All this can take up to two years to do. Donal Whelan, technical director of the ITGA, pointed out that from next year onwards, planning permission may not be required anymore for forest road exits onto public roads that are not primary national routes. However, consent for new entrances or exits will be required from the Forest Service.

While the group provided welcome economies of scale with regard to thinning costs, it isn't without its complications.

For example, Marina Conway, general manager of Western Forestry Co-op, explained that it was essential to know the volumes from each of the three different properties, as only one forest road and one stacking area were available to carry out the harvesting operations.

The co-op overcame this issue by using the harvesting head readings (modern outfits have devices attached that can give very accurate measurements on the volumes of timber passing through the head, provided of course that they have been calibrated in the first place), to allocate the correct timber volumes to each owner reconciled with the forwarder bunk loads and forest dockets left by the transport contractor.

Conway also believes that you have better control over your timber by breaking the link between the harvesting and hauling of the timber, as well as achieving better prices.

While this may involve a little more work, it allows greater visibility of the costs involved and values achieved.

Future management options were discussed at the final stop, including when clearfell should be considered. Ms Conway is in favour of clearfelling in four years' time when the trees will be 30-years-old.

She said that the trees will have an average individual tree volume of 0.6m3 by then. Anywhere from 0.6-0.7m3 is the preferred volumes by Irish sawmills nowadays. Annual increments will also start slowing down by then, while the risk of windblow will be increasing rapidly.

But she had another very good argument to consider clearfell around the age of 30 years, as she pointed out the owners are not teenagers anymore and would like to see a return on their investment.

However, as Donal Whelan pointed out, if the grower can afford to risk the windblow and the wait, the timber value would increase substantially given an additional five years maturing to 35 years.

Steven Meyen is a forestry advisor at Teagasc email:

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