Farm Ireland

Thursday 18 January 2018

Good woodland management pays high dividends

Proper thinning is vital to make the most of your timber crop
Proper thinning is vital to make the most of your timber crop

It appears that there are far too many farmers with woodland who are still unclear as to how best to carry out the task of thinning. It is vitally important to know about it because even if you are leaving everything to a contractor, you need to know if you are getting value or not and if the job is being carried out correctly.

I have written about this many times and make no apology for perhaps repeating myself as I still hear the odd horror story of contractors moving in and taking all the best stems from conifer plantations rather than thinning for the long-term benefit of the crop. I have also heard of hurley ash being harvested from potential final crop ash trees, again to the detriment of the end value of the woodland and the return it could deliver to its owner.

The best education is experience and there is no excuse not to learn from the experience of others. This can be done by attending courses, field days and walks run by Teagasc, the Irish Timber Growers Association and others. There are discussion/producer groups around the country and all farm foresters should join one.

Thinnings are worth good money and if the job is carried out correctly, each intervention will add further to the value of the final crop, as well as providing a decent cash return. Teagasc has stated that even though prices have come back somewhat in recent months, potential thinning revenue of €200 to €600/ha in fully stocked forests is achievable. Some farmers have earned even higher returns and, like everything else in life, they are the ones who took the trouble to learn about forestry and take a close interest in the management and progress of their plantations.

No one can predict the future but it does appear that timber prices are on an upward curve. There is huge demand worldwide and the appetite of the fuel industry for raw material has taken many by surprise.

Who would have thought 10 years ago we would be importing wood pellets from Canada, logs from eastern Europe and manufactured logs from Argentina? Check out the sources of wood fuel for sale in any large outlet and you will be surprised to see the countries of origin and the distances the fuel has travelled. Much of our home-produced wood fuel got a bad name initially, principally due to the high moisture content of what was being sold.

The market is slowly getting sorted out, and reputable producers are gaining market share as the public learn what is suitable and what to avoid.


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In a recent press release Teagasc stated that although it was difficult to predict prices into the future as timber was globally traded and prices subject to many factors, prices had been on a strong upward trend over the past 20 years.

Forests have a distinct advantage over other farm crops in that there is flexibility in the final harvest date. This only applies to forest crops thinned at the appropriate time, helping to minimise the risks of instability or wind damage.

As the forest reaches maturity, owners can keep a close eye on the market and choose to harvest when prices are strong. Sound management will be well rewarded in the future.

Learn what is best for your trees. Don't neglect them for they are worth good money and no one should waste a potential asset. As my own woods mature they require further work such as second and third thinning, high pruning and the maintenance of drains.

The more work we carry out the more I realise the cash value of good management. Access roadways are essential, as are inspection paths and proper stacking of thinnings for further sale. The best prices will always be obtained from well laid out woodland, with the timber for sale accessible and shown to its best advantage.

Indo Farming