The more we learn, the more we can earn from trees
The benefits that flow from having a large group of farmers gather under one roof to talk about forestry and timber should never be underestimated.
The recent Talking Timber events organised by Teagasc in Westmeath and Kilkenny proved invaluable in getting like-minded people together to share their knowledge and experiences and learn from each other.
The large number of trade stands provided a further opportunity for forest owners to interact with timber buyers and contractors. The presentations during the day also helped to clarify the various schemes and what they can provide.
It was unfortunate that some of the presentations, while interesting and focused were, to a large degree, a repetition of others we had listened to earlier.
This could easily be solved by getting the speakers to share the content of their talks with each other beforehand and thereby ensure that repetition does not occur.
All of us who have invested in forestry must get together as often as possible.
Learning never stops. While forestry is an easier enterprise to set up and manage compared with livestock farming or tillage, and requires little capital other than providing land, it is not in any way simpler.
The more we learn, the more we can earn. Some farmers shut the gate after planting, but I reckon that those individuals earn up to 50pc less over the years than their counterparts who actively manage their woods.
While the primary aim is to grow timber, there are many other activities that can be carried out while we are waiting for a first thinning or a final harvest.
I have written frequently on the options for earning additional cash from forestry such as holiday cabins in scenic areas, sporting activities, wood fuel, agro-forestry, foliage, craft work, woodland classrooms, gourmet mushrooms and on and on.
The list is endless and just requires a bit of imagination and enterprise.
Clever farmers see beyond the premium income and ensure that when it ends, they have a solid base established for future earnings. It was disappointing to hear so many at the event in Mullingar focussing solely on taxation and premiums. They should learn more about the benefits and concentrate less on the negatives.
Taxation might be an irritation to us all but I would much prefer to have a taxable income than suffer a loss.
In general, Teagasc are doing a good job in providing us with field days, talks and events that allow us to meet up and hear what the advisors have to say.
The quality of these events has improved immensely over the years and this is reflected in the large numbers of farmers that now attend.
One difficulty Teagasc appear to have is in trying to get the message across on the requirements for good woodland management.
Forestry is not rocket science but it's not simple either and requires a strong commitment on the owner's part to learn as much as possible.
Given the complexities of many issues and the clear difference in management needs for different species, and for different soils and climates, it is just not possible to provide a 'one size fits all' blueprint.
While the advice we receive is well meant and usually very helpful, we have to also use our own brains and decide if some particular aspect of management advice is in fact actually appropriate for our own woods.
One good example would be thinning. There is a wide divergence of opinion on what systems are best, so one cannot suggest a single system for the entire country.
The ways in which I carry out thinning in my own woods are in many ways different from standard practice but I have found them to ideally suit my specific needs.
I have spent the last 25 years studying every book I could find on the subject of forestry as well as attending as many Teagasc events as possible.
Along with those held by the Irish Timber Growers Association I have also attended more recently Pro Silva Ireland meetings.
It's all about learning how best to grow trees on our own farms, getting the most from thinnings, looking at the options and maximising our incomes both in the short term and for the foreseeable future.
Teagasc have done a brilliant job in assisting the formation of local forest owner groups. Producer groups have served dairying, tillage, sheep and suckler farmers well and now forestry is benefiting from this initiative.
If we are to maximise our incomes we must keep on 'talking timber'.
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