Farm Ireland

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Reap the forest benefits

Initial woodland investment is daunting but it pays dividends

Joe Barry

Joe Barry

Perhaps the best way to convince people of the benefits that forestry can bestow on their properties is to show examples of how farmers have already established woods on their land and profited from them.

Sean Ronan is one such farmer and owns 70ac near Callan, Co Kilkenny. He is 61 years of age and has spent all his life farming and contracting, and is considered one of Ireland's best ploughmen.

In 2001 Sean planted almost half his farm, choosing the heaviest and lowest-lying areas for trees. His decision to plant was made after an assessment of forestry benefits combined with stacking entitlements.

While his woodland adds greatly to the landscape, and will continue to do so in the future, Sean emphasised that this is a commercial forest venture and must earn its keep.

Around 19ac are planted with a Larch/Sitka spruce mix, with the balance containing Norway spruce and four acres of ash and alder. The general layout and quality of the trees so impressed the judges for last year's RDS Farm Forestry Awards that Sean received a gong and a cheque for €1,000.

Several factors influenced the judges' decision, including the manner in which the best use was made of the available land and how both the layout and choice of species were well thought through in order to maximise benefits for the farm.

They felt that Sean's woodland was a fine example of the way in which farming and forestry benefit each other. The site was well chosen, in that road access is good and it adjoins other woodland which, in total, comprises a large block of around 500ac. Management of the woods can thereby be carried out in co-operation with neighbours, making full use of available machinery during thinning and other operations.

Medite in Clonmel are nearby and provide a convenient outlet for the thinnings and final crop. Sean also hopes to bundle the brash and sell it as fuel, and, again, his proximity to Medite will ensure this operation is viable.

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Distance travelled is a key factor when deciding whether bundled brash is saleable or not. It is a bulky material and cannot be profitably transported more than about 30 miles from the forest to the factory.

Having examined the numerous options available, Sean decided to opt for a Coillte farm partnership and proceeded under the guidance of Coillte area manager Mick Power.

Mick was a noted hurler in his youth and, over the years, has worked hard to ensure regular supplies of hurley ash for local manufacturers. He was born and raised in Kilkenny, which means that hurling is in his blood. Mick emphasises the real social and cultural value of hurley manufacturers, and how this small cottage industry supports more than 300 full-time hurley makers. Local manufacture is now under threat from imports, and it would be a tragedy if this wonderfully traditional industry was lost and, with it, the valuable market it offers for Irish ash.

Under the partnership scheme, Sean will receive the full 20-year premium payments plus 80pc of the profits from thinning and 55pc of the profits when the final crop is harvested. All the work is managed and carried out by Coillte contractors, which allows Sean to concentrate fully on his other businesses.

Forestry partnerships such as this are just one of a wide range of options available to farmers and other landowners when considering planting. Undoubtedly it suits some to let their woodlands be managed by others and, at the same time, give them a share in the returns. Others prefer to do their own management and ground work and remain in full control. It really all depends on each individual situation.

Teagasc, one of the contracting companies or a private forestry consultant can assist you in finding out what options are available. Talk to them all before making the big decision.

Sean is more than happy that he planted -- and he is now reaping the benefits.

Irish Independent