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

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UK will not source alternative beef and dairy overnight - Hogan
Commissioner Hogan said Irish products would continue going to the UK as consumers would not lower their standards and change their dietary habits overnight.

The United Kingdom will not be able to source alternatives to Irish beef and dairy overnight European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan has said.

Commissioner Hogan said it was important not to have a panicked reaction to the UK's revealing of its no-deal tariff plan last week. While 87% of products would enter the UK tariff free, Irish beef and cheese would be disproportionately affected.

At a media briefing in Brussels, the Commissioner said it was unlikely that UK consumers would change their preferences overnight and were unlikely to accept lower food standards.

He said the UK announcement had been made with little thought, to deflect attention from chaos in the House of Commons. The Commissioner described Brexit as "the most amateurish project ever".

Supports

To reassure farmers, Hogan said the EU had considerable experience in dealing with threats to farmers, citing BSE, foot and mouth disease and the Russian embargo.

The supports available to farmers will be dependent on the outcome of Brexit, he said.

Ending the ongoing uncertainty surrounding Brexit is the priority for the European Commission as a whole, Hogan said. He added that EU member states want certainty given the energy that had been expended to date.

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Farmers urged to check eligible area under new payment maps
The Department of Agriculture held an information meeting on the Land Parcel Identification System rebuild in the Carnbeg Hotel on Wednesday 20 March.

Farmers affected by new Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) maps for 2019 need to ensure that they check the maximum eligible area (MEA) when they make their application. This was the key message coming from the Department at its Land Parcel Identification System (LPIS) rebuild information meetings in Louth.

One farmer told the Irish Farmers Journal that he saw a slight change in his eligible area in one field that went from 3.9ha to 4.01ha. He noted that if he did not adjust his claim area to the new larger area, then he would not benefit from it.

“If you increase your Maximum Eligible Areas (MEA) you do need to tick the box,” Department official Eoin Dooley said.

“There is a process coming in this year that if you want to increase your MEA you can email your geotagged photo into us and we will clear that straight away. If you increase above the MEA we will have to check it.”

However, if there is a reduction in the eligible area this will automatically reduce the farmer’s claimed area to match the new eligible area.

Payment

Farmers and advisors at both information meetings said that the Department, in previous years, has sent claims back where a farmer has increased his/her area. In these instances they say payments are held up.

“It has been the policy that if you make a query on eligibility you will be last to be paid,” one advisor in Louth said.

Fintan O’Brien from the Department responded by saying: “I can give you an undertaking that is not our policy and that will not happen. The facility is there to change the MEA. Each exclusion is given a unique identifier, you put in a note to say that was removed.”

The normal appeals system remains in place for farmers in Louth that wish to query the new maps.

The two information meetings for the LPIS rebuild in Louth are now complete. Some farmers told the Irish Farmers Journal that they had already made their BPS application and others said that the meeting was a helpful clarification on what they should do when applying.

Tillage farmer Pat McGuinness was there to find out why the online application system does not allow field names to be included beside field numbers, something he said is important for Irish heritage and would make the application process easier.

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Organic group holds first meeting
Government and industry representatives are set to monitor the growth of Ireland's organic sector over the next seven years.

The new Organic Strategy Implementation Group held its first meeting in Dublin on Thursday, tasked with carrying out the strategy unveiled in January for the sector.

The group mirrors the Food Wise 2025 implementation group, with Government and industry representatives rolling out a strategy over several years.

The organic strategy aims to grow certified production across all sectors, with a focus on tillage. It aims to double the area under organic cereals and pulses by 2025.

"Implementation of the actions identified within this strategy are a priority and critical to the further development of the organic sector in Ireland," said Minister of State Andrew Doyle.

Former Department official Martin Heraghty chairs the group, which comprises of:

  • Karen Tyner, senior manager, Bord Bia.
  • Dan Clavin, Teagasc organic specialist advisor.
  • Catherine Morrison, project development manager, Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM).
  • Gillian Westbrook, general manager, Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association (IOFGA).
  • Colin Keogh, quality assurance manager and senior inspector, Organic Trust.
  • The group will meet twice a year and invite representatives from other organisations to provide input. It will report periodically to the Food Wise 2025 high-level implementation group.

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