Thinning boost

Timing helps profit

Joe Barry

Joe Barry

Forestry companies and contractors are snowed under with requests for firewood timber. The recent cold spell has focused many home owners' minds on the need to find a regular and reliable source of dry fuel.

One contracting firm stated that they receive at least 10 calls a week from people requesting a supply of wood for processing into fuel. So why can they not supply it? Pulpwood is the primary product of early thinning and, while not suitable for construction or fencing use, it is ideal for use as a fuel.

Thinning at the correct growth stages is one of the most important elements of good woodland management, but the majority of owners of farm forests do not have the means to carry out this work themselves. They must rely on contractors, who, in turn, often find it uneconomical to move expensive machinery into small woods. Yet if buyers and sellers could find common ground, and a proper system of distribution were in place, perhaps it would benefit everyone, from farmers to the end users, who is the home owner with a wood-fuelled heating system. These heating systems are increasingly popular and are cost effective, environmentally sound and reduce our use of imported fossil fuels.

Farmers are reluctant to thin if it only brings in a low return. First thinning always proved problematic, and nothing has changed in this regard. It is an exercise that will only produce enough to just about pay the contractor -- and occasionally not even that. But thinning always pays in the long run and adds a lot to the value of a wood.

Several contractors said that they feel that farmers who own woodland are not sufficiently informed on the low value of early thinnings and think that they are being ripped off when told that they may not make a profit from the exercise. But we employ hedgecutting contractors and don't expect to make money from the task.

Removing low-value thinnings, to allow the final crop to mature, is no different. It is part of good forestry practice. Farmers must also know what should or should not be removed, and can learn by attending the many demonstrations held each year. In encouraging thinning, our advisory services perhaps talk up the potential cash return, but the reality remains that many plantations will not show a first thinning profit.

We currently have a situation where thousands of tonnes of processed logs are being imported into Ireland from eastern Europe for sale as fuel, yet home producers cannot source enough timber to supply the market place to replace imports.

Our balance of payments demands we produce more and import less, yet it appears that timber -- our primary sustainable and renewable product -- is being withheld from the market.

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