Up-to-date information on timber prices and availability are essential components of wood marketing and mobilisation. These are also key components in planning by forest owners and timber processors.

In their absence the market relies on anecdotal evidence, or worse, rumour. While Ireland has good information on medium- to long-term timber forecasts, up-to-date real-time information is not available.

We have discussed these issues in previous editions but solutions have yet to emerge.


Readers of the Irish Farmers Journal will be familiar with comprehensive prices for milk, cattle, sheep and grain on a weekly basis when required, but will look in vain for timber price data.

Log prices have been issued over the years on a quarterly basis by Coillte and Wood Price Quarterly (WPQ), a collaboration between the ITGA and UCD. Coillte withdrew its log prices in 2020 due to “price sensitivity”, while the WPQ was withdrawn due to insufficient data on sales.

The Irish Farmers Journal has been in touch with Coillte whose spokesperson agreed to explore the possibility of providing overall timber prices combining private and Coillte sales data.

Compilation of realistic price data would involve a collaborative approach between Coillte and the private sector using the WPQ template.

In the meantime, foresters, forest owners, forestry companies and sawmillers should make log prices available to the WPQ on a confidential basis through roundwooddatabase@ucd.ie.

Timber availability

The 8.5m m3 of licences issued in 2021 represent 75% of actual licences applied for but it is a move in the right direction and well up from 5m m3 in 2020. This is the actual volume now licensed and available, but it may not come on the market for a number of years as felling licences cover a 10-year period.

The volume is based on an average 350m3/ha for clearfells and 70m3/ha for thinning. This is a reasonable calculation although the thinning estimate is too high but balanced by a conservative volume for clearfells.

The volume availability is calculated according to the harvesting schedule in the applicant’s felling licence. It shows volumes by clearfell and thinning separately along with expected years of harvest. A similar breakdown should be presented in the Department’s dashboard rather than a cumulative volume as is the case at present. This would provide sawmills, board mills and energy outlets with more accurate data for future planning.

Mind the gap – assessing forestry dashboard data

The Department of Agriculture’s year-end dashboard has been released, providing data for afforestation, felling and forest road licences. The gap between felling licences issued and actual harvesting is unavailable but in the case of afforestation and roading, it is far too wide.


As expected afforestation makes bleak reading with licences issued for 4,255ha – down on the previous years – which converted into 2,016ha of actual planting compared with 2,435ha in 2020 and 3,549ha in 2019.

The year-end afforestation area is an estimate but a rough 2:1 ratio between licences issued to actual planting is a realistic average.

During the past three years, 8,000ha were planted while 13,000ha were approved. Assuming there are no duplicates in these figures, some 5,000ha are available for planting but not licenced.

At an average planting area of 7.5ha, this amounts to 660 actual landowners including farmers. It is important that the Department writes to them, explaining the reason for the delay in issuing licences and to encourage them to stay in the system.

Record road licences

The gap between licences and work completed applies in particular to forest roading. For example, in 2020 licences were issued for 130km of roads with 98km constructed; a healthy 75% conversion. Yet last year only 70km were constructed even though a record – in recent times – 264km were licensed by the Department. The information doesn’t provide a breakdown between Coillte and private sector road construction.

Based on dashboard data, forest owners now have sufficient road licences, while felling licences have improved so resources, promised by Minister Hackett, should concentrate on the afforestation programme which has collapsed in most counties.

Forestry reading matter

There is no shortage of forestry and wood-related publications at the moment. Recent books cover the history of wood and the role of wood in the bioeconomy, while the annual Forestry and Timber Yearbook covers a wide range of forestry topics from an Irish perspective.

Forestry and the bioeconomy

One of the key findings of COP26 was to phase out “various forms of fossil fuels and [end] deforestation”.

Coinciding with COP26, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation published The role of forest products in the global bioeconomy: Enabling substitution by wood-based products and contributing to the sustainable development goals. It makes a number of recommendations targeting national governments.

The recommendation to “incentivise and encourage the responsible production and consumption of sustainable biobased products and discourage the use of non-renewable, fossil-based and GHG-intensive products,” has particular relevance to Ireland.

It also recommends government and regional economic integration organisations to: “Consider the important role of forests and forest products in a functioning, circular bioeconomy, including carbon storage by forest ecosystems, carbon storage in wood products, product substitution effects and possible leakage effects.”

The publication is available to download here free of charge.

Wood age

The relationship between humans and the forest in Ireland goes back at least 12,500 years although the date keeps shifting.

Recent findings suggest that the first hunter-gatherers arrived here 20,000 years earlier.

This lineage pales into insignificance compared with the findings of Roland Ennos in his remarkable book The Wood Age: How one Material Shaped the Whole of Human History, which covers a 10m time span.

Published by William Collins, Professor Ennos begins with the great apes’ relationship with the forest where they lived in tree canopies.

He explores the bond between humans and forests in developing wood for shelter, utensils, transport and weapons from prehistory up to the present time. Foresters would question his views on plantation forests but The Wood Age is a fascinating account of this vital renewable material and our relationship with it.

Forestry yearbook

The Forestry and Timber Yearbook 2022 is a must-read for anyone involved in forestry or thinking about establishing a forest.

Published by the Irish Timber Growers Association (ITGA), the 33rd edition provides a directory of services, covering virtually every sector in forestry from nurseries to manufacturing and from forestry companies to timber processors and related companies and organisations – State and private.

It features articles on carbon trading, practical forestry, statistics, timber markets, bioenergy, woodland taxation and non-wood forestry.

“The yearbook contains 208 pages of valuable information for timber growers, forestry professionals, the timber industry and the general public,” said Donal Whelan, ITGA technical director.

Yearbook copies can be ordered online at www.forestryyearbook.ie or by contacting ITGA at 01-235 0520 or email info@itga.ie. The price is €14.90, covering postage and packaging.