The Forestry and Bio Energy Show held recently over two days at Birr Castle Estate was one of those nice events enjoyed as much by the stand holders as by those who just came to look and learn.
One forestry consultant remarked to me that it was a "quality" crowd in attendance. Virtually everyone present had come on a mission, either to learn more about woodland management or purchase some item of equipment. He said that from a stand holder's point of view, while the Ploughing Championships attract huge crowds, many are only there to wander around and annoy you for free pens and leaflets.
Furthermore, entering and leaving the Ploughing is never an easy task and can take hours, whereas accessing the show at Birr was painless and without delays.
The Birr event reminded me very much of its counterpart in Britain, the Professional Foresters' Show. All the major forest machinery suppliers were present and prospective buyers could try out equipment in the woods or watch it being put through its paces in a proper working environment with lots of space for onlookers.
The organisers were delighted with the reaction from both visitors and commercial interests and plan to hold another similar show in two years' time with the dates set for early May.
My son and I took a small stand under our 'Log On Firewood' banner in the hope of meeting with woodland owners who have broadleaf thinnings to sell. This proved worthwhile and we also met many others in the wood-fuel business, who called to the stand to share experiences and catch up on developments.
I made sure not to miss the opportunity to meet our new Minister of State with responsibility for forestry, Sean McEntee, who opened the show and gave a very positive talk on the benefits timber growing brings to the Irish economy.
We all have high hopes that he will be able to help our forest industry continue to prosper during these tough times. Of course, being a Meath man, it will be no bother to him.
Perhaps the most impressive items I saw at the show were some very special trees that are part of trials being undertaken by the British and Irish Hardwoods Improvement Trust (BIHT) and which had been grafted last summer and grown in a tunnel, their parents being two carefully selected 'plus' trees.
Dr Michael Carey explained to me how, as part of its programme, the BIHT selected 190 of these superior trees across Britain and Ireland over the past five years. Cuttings have been taken from these and propagated on at Kinsealy Research Station by Dr Gerry Douglas.
The propagated material will eventually find its way into three seed orchards in the North and two sites in Britain. Seed will be collected from these orchards and then passed on to the nurseries and finally to us, the timber growers, when they are ready to plant out.
These 'plus' trees could transform our approach to forestry and hopefully make broadleaf growing a genuinely profitable option for landowners.
Up to now, we have tended to rely almost totally on Sitka spruce for planting in our commercial woodlands and have concentrated our research on improving those conifer species that grow so well in Ireland. While conifers comprise around 70pc of our planted area and are the mainstay of our thriving sawmilling and processing industry, there is also a need for hardwoods to reduce imports and allow us to make the best use of the better land that is capable of growing them.
To date, the poor quality of much of our broadleaf stock has hindered development and led to an understandable reluctance on the part of woodland owners to plant them.
Working closely with COFORD, the BIHT has now established stands of superior selected trees to provide seed for the ultimate 'plus' trees that can deliver high-quality timber over a greatly reduced timeframe. The BIHT has already established seed stands of birch, ash, cherry, sycamore, chestnut, oak and walnut.
COFORD's John Fennessy told me that the forestry body will have the first 1kg of improved birch seed from an Irish orchard ready this year to go out to nurseries.
Broadleaf breeding has enormous potential.
I only wish we had this programme in place 20 or 30 years ago so that I, and others like me who planted broadleaves, could have availed of this superior stock.
For further information on the BIHT, contact Dr Michael Carey at firstname.lastname@example.org.