Knowledge of thinnings will pay off
Forestry in Ireland is a remarkable success story. At the turn of the 20th century, the area under forest had dwindled to less than 1pc, with virtually no associated industry to speak of.
Today, the total forest estate amounts to more than 10pc of the land area, supporting an industry worth about €1.9bn a year and providing around 16,000 jobs.
Of course, the State had -- indeed, it continues to have -- a significant role to play in all this, but, in recent years, private input to this success story has been no less remarkable. The total area of private woodland has increased from 100,000ha in the early 1980s to the current figure of about 350,000ha, or 46pc of all forest in the Republic of Ireland.
Yes, this increase has been fuelled by the grant and premium schemes that were first introduced in 1993, but also it has only been made possible because of the appreciation on the part of landowners, principally farmers, to foresee that forestry is a legitimate and valuable land use in its own right.
With so much forest established in such a short space of time, inevitably the focus was mostly on establishment, but now that a considerable proportion of this forest has reached the stage of first thinning, the focus is broadening to include the management of what is a vital resource.
In fact, the National Forest Inventory has identified that as much as 87pc of private forests are ready to thin, but there remains a fundamental lack of knowledge as to how to go about it, which, in turn, causes much uncertainty.
During the course of the past few weeks, Teagasc organised four regional timber marketing days designed to help answer the typical questions raised by private owners looking to thin their forests, and to allow them the opportunity to meet forestry experts, potential buyers, and harvesting contractors.
I attended two of these excellent events and was struck by how well attended they were and by the degree of interest in the topics discussed. The one in Abbeyleix, Co Laois, on March 13 drew, I think it's safe to say, the biggest crowd ever in a single room at a forestry event in this country. Presentations at each event were given by Teagasc forestry advisers, producer groups, ITGA, self-assessment companies, forestry consultants, the contractors' association and sawmillers.