'My days of hunting cattle and calving sucklers are over'

My week: Ivor Clegg, Mountrath, Co Laois: Forestry plantation owner

Ivor Clegg from Co Laois, pictured on the right.
Ivor Clegg from Co Laois, pictured on the right.

Ken Whelan

Ivor Clegg is nothing if not adaptable and resilient. The same can be said about his family's 90ha farm in Mountrath which, across three generations of the Cleggs, has been variously run as a dairy enterprise, a beef operation and now has been transformed into a forest plantation.

The farmer from the Queen's county has just collected his €2,000 prize as the RDS best new plantation owner -his second RDS prize in three years - and is currently carrying out routine maintenance work on his award winning enterprise.

"But I am not killing myself," he quickly adds.

"I'm clearing the access to the wood, pruning and thinning and going through the mechanics of measuring the plots. I am using a tractor forwarder which I bought recently. It's a great machine even if it's a bit of an antique," Ivor says.

The decision to transform the farm into a forest was forced on Ivor when his brother Wayne, with whom he shares the farm, got a job as an ambulance driver in the early 2000s.

"Once that happened my days of hunting cattle and calving suckers were numbered. It was a tipping point because the workload had doubled overnight and I became a one man band. And anyway things were not great in the beef sector at the time.

"So I planted 20ha under forestry near one of the two bogs on the farm and it progressed from there.

"The farm is now been totally afforested."

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So what has been the difference income-wise between the three different enterprises the Cleggs have run on their farm near Ballyfin Lake over the years?

"The forestry, when you take in premiums and taxation reliefs, produces the same income as I would have made with the beef operation and it would be equivalent to the income you would get from a medium sized dairy farm," Ivor explains.

Previously the Cleggs dairy enterprise ran 120 cows and supplied milk initially to Premier Dairies and latterly to Glanbia but it fell victim a combination of brucellosis and panicking bankers in the late eighties and early nineties.

Ivor had just completed his Ag studies at Gurteen College at the time

"We were running the dairy and had some sheep and tillage as well and we'd pick up the odd case of brucellosis but nothing serious.

"But when the government brought in a proper scheme to deal with the disease and we were unfortunate enough to have about four cases on the farm and we were locked down.

"We had a considerable farm debt at the time and the banks moved and were talking about sheriffs so we did a deal which was paid for by leasing land and selling our milk quota.

"We were left with enough money to buy a new herd but with no milk quota."

Cue the move into beef in the nineties and then, when Wayne joined the ambulance service over a decade later, the idea of moving into forestry took root.

The plantation is mainly Norway spruce and broad leaves and includes oak, alder and sycamore and is a long way from the ribbons of sikka spruce which were planted on the land by his parents back in the sixties.

Ivor reckons when 'heavy lifting felling time' arrives at the forest between the two bogs he will be calling in the contractors. He can't see himself doing it single handed.

In the meantime his new farm rosters allows Ivor to spend more time on Teagasc courses and with farm discussion groups to say nothing about his ambition to return to his old hobby - off road 4X4 trials and challenges or what he describes as ' driving jeeps across stupid places'.

And in between all this activity he will continue to run the 'modest firewood enterprise' which he is developing.

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