News Q&A: Forestry advice must be tailored to individual case

Frances McHugh, Forestry Specialist, Teagasc Crops, Environment & Land Use Programme.

The forestry option presents many opportunities for landowners, but it is important to base any decision on sound advice and information tailored to individual cases.

As a follow-up to their recent forestry clinics, the Teagasc forestry development department will organise a series of forestry management walks on April 18 to 29.

Further details of these events will be advertised closer to the dates or can be seen on the web page.

Landowners made over 500 appointments to talk to Teagasc advisers during the recent nationwide series of forestry advice clinics.

In the current edition of the Today’s Farm Teagasc/Agricultural Trust publication, some of the most frequently asked questions at the clinics are answered by Frances McHugh, forestry specialist, teagasc crops environment and land use programme.

How long will it take until harvest?

Anyone interested in planting some land must have a clear appreciation of the timescale of the proposed crop. The 15-year duration of the premiums will usually bring a well-managed crop to first thinning. Thinnings must be carried out multiple times.

If a plantation is to be clearfelled; a typical age for this for conifers would be around 35 years, whereas broadleaves can vary but usually take at least 50 years.

In the case of many broadleaf woodlands, a clearfelling might never happen but rather replacement trees are planted, while larger trees remain at wide spacing.

What are the predicted returns from forests?

How returns from forestry are presented is always a debatable issue.

For example, presenting present-day returns as an indication of what might be achieved in 30 to 40 years’ time goes against basic economics.

However, it is important that potential forest owners have some idea of potential returns from forestry.

It is important to recognise the variation in forest productivity. Therefore, it is useful to compare returns from forestry on different site types on an annual per ha basis.

This can be done by calculating the net present value of a forest (the total net value of a timber crop over the rotation expressed in today’s money).

This net present value can then be presented as a series of equal cashflows over the forest rotation length. It is this annual equivalent value which can be used to compare returns from forestry against other farm enterprises.

What happens after the final harvest?

The felling of trees is controlled by the Forestry Act. This act requires that a felling licence is in place for any tree-felling (with some minor exceptions).

In the case of a clearfell, replanting is compulsory.

There is no reforestation grant at present. The cost of reforestation of a conifer crop is estimated to be €2,500 per hectare, whereas clearfell revenue could be in the region of €20,000 to €25,000/ha (it is site-dependent).

Are there any other options than conventional plantation forestry?

The latest Forestry Programme 2014-20 includes some new options for woodland establishment.

These options still come under the Forestry Act and so replanting is required in the case of a clearfell.

These options include:

* Native woodland establishment: The focus is on native species with minimum site disturbance and long-term close-to-nature management.

It presents opportunities for planting on environmentally sensitive sites.

* Agro-forestry: Combination of forestry and pasture with 400 to 1,000 trees/ha. Trees are protected, so grazing by sheep or small domestic livestock is permitted.

* Forestry for fibre: Growing productive tree species to produce wood biomass over 10-15 years.

Trees are planted at a minimum of 2,000 trees per hectare. Species such as Italian alder, hybrid Aspen, eucalyptus, and poplar are used.


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