Farmer writes: separating the wood from the trees
Kieran Sullivan has been thinking more about their 24 acres of forestry since COP21 a few months ago.

We established 12 acres of forest in 2008 on what was affectionately known as ‘the bog’. The land wasn’t entirely bogland but it was wet and the rushes were spreading. Not knowing an awful lot about forestry, we were initially attracted by the annual premiums on offer.

We decided to plant alder, striking a balance between time-to-clearfell (25-30 years) and the annual premium amount. There’s 10% diversity around the edges, and this is a nice mixture of oak, ash, and chestnut.

Since then, we’ve had little to do with it, apart from maintaining the fences and taking the odd admiring walk in amongst the trees themselves.

We also planted 12 acres of Sitka spruce in 2015, but more on this at another stage.

I keep abreast of forestry news and updates through Donal Magner forestry pages, so I had an idea the first alder thinnings would be on the horizon soon. When Teagasc advertised their one-to-one consultancy clinics for forestry recently, I booked in and ended up having a very useful discussion with one of their forestry specialists.

As it turns out, we won’t be taking the first thinnings until closer to 2018, or when the alder reaches approximately 10 metres. But there are a number of tasks we can get on with between now and then.

Work the land

The first thing I realised after the meeting is that forestry requires you to ‘work the land’. I’ve heard farmers dismiss neighbours who had planted, saying ‘They’d given up the land’. But this is not the case. Sure, it’s a different type of work but planted land still takes labour, management and planning.

And like any other enterprise, the effort you put in makes a big different to what you get in return. To look after your forestry, you need to control vegetation and weeds, apply fertiliser if required, check stocking density and replace dead trees, check frost/flooding damage in young trees – the list goes on.

Our current job will be to start identifying potential trees for the final crop. Alder is planted at just over 1,000 trees/acre at establishment, and the optimum is to end up with 120 trees/acre at clearfell. This reduction is achieved over successive thinnings, usually taken every four years.

We’ll initially remove two trees from around each of the potential final crop specimens, thereby giving them more space.

Moving onto the trees that remain, we’ll start ‘shaping’ them by removing forks and large competing side branches.

In a short few years, the final forest will start to emerge and I’m looking forward to bringing the kids for walks in the forest that daddy and uncle Tony planted. This brings me onto the other main reason we started planting trees – while forestry is, in one way, just another agri-enterprise, it is different also. The timeline involved means you have to consider long-term issues such as the environment, bio-diversity, and even your own lifespan!

Whatever about the annual premiums and final clearfell sales, it’s great to see ‘the bog’ supporting such greenery and growth, while at the same providing sustainable energy resources and sequestering carbon to boot.

It’s a good legacy to pass on to the next generation.

Kieran Sullivan and his brother farm part-time in Co Waterford. You can follow him on Twitter: @kieran_sullivan

Read more

Farmer writes: the economics of make or buy

Farmer writes: Smart farming and the internet-of-things

Listen: gap between large and small food exporters in Brexit readiness
Bord Bia's Brexit Barometer shows that agri-food companies have made progress in planning for the UK's exit from the EU, but work remains to be done especially for smaller ones.

As the prospect of a hard Brexit grows, results from a survey of 117 agri-food exporting companies by Bord Bia show that 54% have made some progress and developed plans in the past year, while 20% describe themselves as having made more advanced progress and taken actions and 26% say they have made no progress.

While Bord Bia's chief executive Tara McCarthy told the Irish Farmers Journal it was "great to hear" that three quarters of companies had made at least some progress, the detail of risks addressed by exporters shows larger ones are more advanced.

"For smaller companies, this is a bigger challenge. Larger companies are probably more organised, those over the €100m mark. The smaller companies, specifically those under the €1m mark, don't actually have the resources in many instances to put these scenario plans in place," she said.

Listen to Tara McCarthy in our podcast below:

This was apparent in a replies to a number of survey questions on crucial business areas to be affected by Brexit. Asked whether they had modelled the cost of future customs requirements, 40% of companies with a turnover of €100m or more said yes, but this fell sharply to under 20% for those under €1m.

Some 85% of exporters have looked at expanding into new markets outside the UK.

"We're looking at a fairly positive story here," said McCarthy. But again, this applies to 100% of larger companies, with lower rates of market diversification among smaller ones.

McCarthy said it was reassuring to see more companies now addressing the financial aspects of Brexit, such as the need to increase cashflow availability to deal with export VAT when exporting to the UK after it leaves the EU. Exporters have also gotten better at raising Brexit issues in relations with their British customers.

However, "more needs to be done in the area of customs and tariffs, and the nitty gritty of supply chains," she said. In response, Bord Bia aims to boost its training offer on issues such as currency and supply chain management in the coming months.

Read more

EU leaders warn of no-deal Brexit

No withdrawal from the backstop agreement

New ICOS president announced
Michael Spellman has been elected president of the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS), following a meeting of the board today.

Spellman is currently chair of the ICOS National Marts Committee and is a former president of the European Association of Livestock Markets (EALM) and a former chair of Roscommon Leader Partnership. From Kilteevan, Co Roscommon, he is a board member of ICOS and of Roscommon Co-operative Livestock Mart.

'Vibrant agri-food sector'

The newly elected president said: “We have an extraordinarily vibrant agri-food sector and farmer-owned and controlled co-operatives play a huge role in underpinning, supporting and driving it."

"Notwithstanding the enormous potential which our industry has, and the ambition we have to grow our exports in line with Food Wise 2025, we face enormous challenges around CAP funding, volatility and compliance with our environmental commitments,” continued Spellman.

Spellman thanked the board for their confidence in him and for their support. He intends to work closely with the executive team and the expert committees, representing dairies, marts and all other co-ops and with ICOS members.

At the same meeting,James O'Donnell was elected vice president. James represents the National Co-operative Farm Relief Services and is a dairy farmer in Golden, Co Tipperary, supplying Dairygold Co-op.

ICOS represents over 130 co-operatives in Ireland, including the Irish dairy processing co-operatives and livestock marts. It's associated businesses have a combined turnover in the region of €14bn, with some 150,000 individual members, employing 12,000 people in Ireland, and a further 24,000 people overseas.

Spellman will take office immediately. He succeeds Martin Keane who was president of ICOS from 2014 until earlier this month when he stepped down following his appointment as chair of Glanbia Co-operative and Glanbia plc.

Read more

Farmers call for action on bullying allegations

Suspected water contamination kills 54 cows

Desire to speed-up approval process for safe new pesticides