Hurricane Darwin's 'wind-blow' bill now tops €50m

Caitlin Crowe (5) struggles with her donkey at the Virginia Agricultural Show in Cavan on Wednesday afternoon. Photo: Lorraine Teevan
Caitlin Crowe (5) struggles with her donkey at the Virginia Agricultural Show in Cavan on Wednesday afternoon. Photo: Lorraine Teevan

Ken Whelan

Hurricane Darwin cost the forestry sector €50m and levelled 8,300ha of plantations when it hit Ireland in February, an industry survey has concluded.

The findings confirm that losses are worse than initial estimates, which suggested that the total area damaged by wind-blow was 7,000ha.

The survey was carried out by an industry task force, set up by junior Agriculture Minister Tom Hayes to investigate the extent of the damage caused to forestry plantations by the extreme weather event.

"Our original estimate back in the spring of 7,000ha turned out to be conservative and how much of this windblown timber can be salvaged has yet to be established," Donal Whelan, technical director of the Irish Timber Growers Association, told the Farming Independent this week.

State forests were the worst affected, with 6,122ha (15,127ac) of forest brought down by the storms, while some 2,198ha (5,431ac) of private forest suffered damage..

"If the timber was blown flat then the salvage price would not be very much off the market price but if the timber was snapped or shattered then its value will be much less," Mr Whelan explained.

There is now concern across the industry about the current availability of timber harvesting machinery given the task facing contractors who will have to deal with the normal annual timber harvest and the huge levels of windblow material.

This concern is exacerbated by the fact that over the next decade the Irish timber industry will have to cope with much bigger harvests once the newer private forests reach their harvesting rotation.

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The industry is worth €2.3bn annually to the Irish economy. Timber supplies from Irish plantations total 2.84m cubic metres of wood each year. However, this level of timber production is forecast rise to 6.95m cubic metres of timber over the next 10 years.

This unprecedented expansion will require an equivalent expansion in our timber harvesting capability.

Asked to explain why Coillte's state forests experienced three times more wind-blow 
damage last February than private forests, Mr Whelan said it was simply a question of age.

"It's not a forestry management issue. The Coillte forests are older and higher than the private forests which, in many cases, have been growing for less than 20 years. The older forests are always more susceptible to weather events," Mr Whelan added.

Teagasc begin its latest round of timber marketing meetings today (Tuesday, August 26) in Kildalton and next week (Tuesday, September 2) in Mullingar.

Indo Farming