Farm Ireland

Monday 19 February 2018

Thinning contracts 'vital' forestry owners warned

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Forestry owners have been advised to secure binding agreements with forestry contractors before starting thinning operations on plantations.

The warnings follow complaints from a number of growers regarding delayed payments for timber following the thinning of woodlands.

There have also been reports of forests being 'raped' during thinning, with an excessive number of trees being felled by contractors.

In addition, forestry advisers complained of growers being "stung" by some contractors, with timber being undervalued and no proper record being kept of the amount of timber that was cut and removed from woods.


Forestry sources insisted that the problems arose with a small minority of contractors but they said that growers should be aware that "a few unscrupulous" operators were preying on inexperienced plantation owners.

"The bigger saw mills are reputable businesses, the trouble is with small a few small contractors. These are the real cowboys," one forestry consultant in the south maintained.

Forestry advisers said there was an increasing incidence of problems arising between contractors and woodland owners concerning the value of thinnings, payment delays and, in extreme cases, allegations of timber being stolen.

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Donal Whelan, of the Irish Timber Growers Association (ITGA), said one of the main problems was farmers' inexperience but that without written contracts, growers had nothing to fall back on regardless of the value of the timber involved.

Mr Whelan said forestry owners should agree a contract before thinning operations start. This should specify the price per tonne the owner is being paid for the timber, the deposit to be paid to the owner with a strict instalment payment plan, and the method to be used to record loads of timber leaving the plantation.

He said the ITGA had agreed a sales dispatch system with a number of the larger timber mills and its use should be insisted on by growers.

The system involved a sealed box for dockets being placed near the gate to the wood and texts being sent by the buyer/truck driver to the grower prior to collection of each load. Every truck driver that takes a load of timber records the time and date he called, the registration of the truck and the amount of timber collected. This data is filled out on a docket which is then placed in the docket box.

The truck is then weighed at a certified weighbridge, usually at a mill, and the weight of timber in the load is then attached to a copy of the docket which is posted to the woodland owner.

"If a grower sees timber being moved and he has not received a text, he knows something is up," he added.


Mr Whelan said thinning of a well-stocked forest of spruce, of a reasonable area, should leave the grower with €400-600/ha after costs.

He added that forestry owners who are new to the business would be well advised to hire a forestry consultant to value the wood, advise on a contract and deal with the contractor.

Where plantations are being clear felled, the problems with recording loads of timber leaving woods becomes even more critical as each load could be worth up to €1,500.

The benefits of hiring a trained forester are also more evident since the value of the plantation could range from €25,000/ha to €30,000/ha.

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