With each passing year the number of private forest owners whose timber is ready for harvest increases steadily. While some of these are placing second and third thinnings on the market and therefore have gained some experience of the timber market, the majority are new to the game and are potentially exposed to unscrupulous contractors and timber buyers.
Everyone has heard scare stories of second rate harvesting contractors ruining young plantations at a first thinning, and farmers are justifiably concerned to ensure the job is done right before any damage is done. A first thinning can make or break a crop and attention to detail invariably pays off.
Vendors who have a relatively trouble free experience usually take the precaution of demanding all parties to the sale sign a clear, watertight contract for sale.
This should leave both buyer and seller in no doubt as to the terms of sale, and include clauses which cover, as far as possible, the kinds of eventualities that can go wrong.
For the first time we now have a template 'Master Tree Sales Agreement' available to the sector and drafted specifically to protect the interests of the private grower.
This has been produced by the Irish Timber Growers Association (ITGA) following a lengthy project to develop a template agreement in which private forest owners could have confidence.
This sales agreement template will save growers time and expense in not having to develop their own sales agreements from scratch. The project was part funded by the Forest Service, and it is hoped that this template will act to encourage private growers to market their timber and so increase wood mobility in the sector.
ITGA technical director Donal Whelan said: "With the consultation process involved in drafting the template Agreement, it represents many years of cumulative experience of foresters and industry best practice. No forest owner or forester should consider selling timber without such a contract in place".
The template is readily adaptable to an individual owner's situation. There are 18 terms and conditions, covering such items as felling, harvesting and removal of timber, insurance, compliance with the legislation and Forest Service guidelines, health and safety, and environmental considerations.
This template agreement is the latest of a number of important ITGA initiatives including the Model Timber Sales Dispatch System, the Private Roundwood Price Database, and the Irish Thinning Protocol (produced in association with the Forestry Development Association co-op), all of which complement each other. The Template Master Tree Sales Agreement is now available to download from the ITGA website www.itga.ie.
Second thinning of broadleaf woodlands
Teagasc, in conjunction with the Forest Service, held a demonstration day on the second thinning of broadleaf woodland in Summerhill, Co. Meath last week.
The event was aimed at owners who have already thinned their broadleaf woodland and are now ready to carry out a subsequent thinning.
However, it was also aimed at forestry owners in general who want to envisage how their woodlands will develop.
The following topics were demonstrated and discussed on the day:
• Growing trees for quality timber;
• Timing of the thinning operation;
• Preparation for thinning;
• Getting the job done;
• Timber extraction.
There should be approximately 200 broadleaf trees/ha remaining in a well-managed woodland at the end of a rotation.
The remainder of the trees will have been removed as thinnings. That means that 85pc of all trees, or 50pc of the volume, in a broadleaf woodland is removed as thinnings over the commercial life of the crop.
Many broadleaf forests have been planted since the1990s, some of which have had an intervention already - either tended or first thinned and now ready for a subsequent thinning.
Teagasc states that it is important that owners have the awareness and knowledge to commence this vital operation. The thinnings from these woodlands are a valuable asset in offsetting and/or generating farm income. Timber harvested from these woodlands can provide a valuable source of fuel as well as other products as the crop develops.
The demonstration day opened with a discussion on the optimum time to commence subsequent thinning of sycamore and the associated important issues to be considered at the time, e.g. felling licenses, felling, extraction, access etc.
This was followed by a practical demonstration of the thinning of sycamore.
This site has already received a first thinning and participants were able to see how the crop has developed. The difference in growth rates from an unthinned plot, to first and subsequent thinned plots was also compared. Participants were also shown how to manage the remaining trees to produce a valuable forest crop. There was also a demonstration on the extraction of the thinnings.
While there are only 200,000 hectares of oak woodland in Britain and 15,000 hectares in Ireland (about 9pc and 2pc of total forest areas respectively), oak remains by far the most important broadleaf species in both countries.
Throughout Europe, oak forest provides the most biodiverse of all woodland habitats, and provided it's of high quality its timber invariably commands a good price. On the other hand, poor oak is of little use other than firewood.
However, oak is a notoriously unforgiving species. It is remarkably prone to defects, including heavy branching, epicormic shoots, and timber "shake". Grey squirrels love it and it is also prone to a variety of diseases.
All British and Irish foresters who have visited France return immensely impressed by the quality of their oak and there is little doubt that the French have a magical way with the species which has been the envy of landowners and foresters here for generations.
A welcome new publication, Oak: fine timber in 100 years, translated from the original French by Bede Howell, a British chartered forester with extensive knowledge of oak production in both Britain and France, is now available.
Originally published in 2010, and written by French forester Jean Lemaire, the book is the outcome of over 30 years research during which it has been demonstrated that oak can be grown on a much shorter rotation than was previously the practice.
Copies of this fine publication, priced at €35, can be obtained from Future Trees Trust at www.futuretrees.org.
William Merivale is national secretary of PEFC Ireland and a forestry consultant based in Cork.email: email@example.com