Sunday 22 July 2018

'Ophelia could cost us €100k... it has the potential to buckle our business' - owner of specialist tree nursery

Joe Ahern owner Fána Tree Nursery, Ballyhooly, north Cork where between 7,000 and 10,000 trees were destroyed in Storm Ophelia.
Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Joe Ahern owner Fána Tree Nursery, Ballyhooly, north Cork where between 7,000 and 10,000 trees were destroyed in Storm Ophelia. Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Graham Clifford

The owner of a specialist tree nursery in North Cork, who lost up to 10,000 trees during Storm Opehlia, has pleaded with the Minister for Horticulture for vital support.

Joe Ahern who owns Fána Nursery in Ballyhooly had thousands of trees flattened on Monday during Storm Ophelia and is hoping that Storm Brian doesn’t wreak further havoc this weekend.

“We’re still counting the number of trees destroyed by Ophelia. It’s a pain-staking process. Everywhere we look there are trees down. It could be as many as 10,000 trees lost at a potential cost of up to €100,000 to the business. It has the potential to buckle us….but for now we’re focused on rescuing what stock we can and looking ahead,” said Joe Ahern.

And he told Independent.ie that other nursery owners across the country suffered similar damage.

“It’s everywhere but as a percentage of total stock we seem to have been hit the hardest. Storm Ophelia destroyed over a quarter of our total number of trees, it’s devastating, really devastating,” said Joe.

Gusts in excess of 130 km per hour ripped through rows of trees, including oak, birch and laurel.

Almost 70 percent of the nurseries’ Pyrus Chanticleer stock was wiped out. Intriguingly the gusts bulldozed through some rows while leaving others beside them relatively untouched. In some cases, the trees were snapped completely at their base such was the strength of Monday’s winds.

“These were trees which were first planted between five and 10-years-ago. Literally thousands of man-hours have gone into them. Its heart-breaking to see them bent, twisted and lying on the ground. It was like a vortex hit them throwing them around the place. We’ve never seen anything quite like it in our 15-years of business,” explained the father of two.

While insurance cover is available for those in the tree nursery sector the annual premium costs would swamp a nursery the size of Fána and so the business will have to incur the costs unless the State can assist.

“As a sector we’re crying out for help. Like there was literally nothing I could have done to prevent this or protect my stock. When other sectors suffer excessive storm damage on this scale they can apply to a support fund, we need to be able to do that too,” said Joe.

And he continued: “If Minister Andrew Doyle (Minister of State for Food, Forestry and Horticulture) is serious about supporting our industry, having our back and limiting the amount of non-indigenous trees and plants coming in from other countries then we must surely get a helping hand at difficult times like this.”

He added: “It’s little wonder than there is a shortage of new entrants into the nursey plant business in Ireland today. If supports aren’t forthcoming now then some growers may go out of business. All we’re asking for is some help in our hour of need.”

A second nursery, Annaveigh Plants, in New Inn, Co Tipperary also had damage to an estimated 10,000 trees caused by Storm Ophelia.

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