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Farmer writes: separating the wood from the trees
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Farmer writes: separating the wood from the trees

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Kieran Sullivan has been thinking more about their 24 acres of forestry since COP21 a few months ago.
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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