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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€100m autumn payout to beef farmers – Creed
It is hoped that the European Commission will set out the conditions of its contribution to the €100m beef fund next month.

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed intends to pay the €100m Brexit beef fund to farmers in the autumn.

“The ambition is to see payments commence through the autumn period, but that is all dependent on the terms and conditions set by the European Commission,” a spokesperson for Minister Creed said.

The Commission will finalise the conditions of its €50m share of the fund at the next meeting of EU agriculture ministers in early June. The Minister then plans “rapid” engagement with stakeholders, before the scheme details are finalised and opened “as a matter of urgency”, his spokesperson said. No formal meetings about the €100m fund have yet taken place between the Department and farm organisations or factories.

If the €100m were to be paid on every animal slaughtered during the October 2018 to March 2019 reference period, it would equate to a payment of €111/head. However it is understood that a number of options are being considered.

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Overseas investors buy 4,000ha of forestry
The transaction between Veon, AXA IM and Gresham House illustrates the rising interest of Paris and London-based investment firms in Irish conifer plantations.

Forestry consultants Veon have sold 4,074ha of Irish mature forestry plantations across the west of Ireland for an undisclosed sum to Paris-based AXA Investment Managers Real Assets.

This is the first investment in Irish agriculture for AXA IM, one of the world’s largest private equity firms. It noted that growth in Ireland’s “optimal climate” outperformed its other investments in Finland and France. Christophe Lebrun, the firm’s head of forestry, said this was the largest forestry sale in the UK and Ireland in recent years.

Timber boom

Irish timber is forecast to boom and “this acquisition provides us with a significant footprint at the early stage in this growth phase,” he added.

London firm Gresham House already controls 125,000ha of forestry in the UK and will manage this investment on behalf of AXA IM.

“It gives us a foothold in Ireland which may benefit our wider asset management business as Brexit unfolds,” Gresham House chief executive Tony Dalwood said, with climate change also a motivation.

Veon will continue to provide forestry services on the 185 plantations sold.

Veterinary Council can't control ownership of vet practices
The president and CEO of the Veterinary Council of Ireland appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture on Tuesday to discuss corporate ownership of veterinary practices.

Legal changes to the Veterinary Act are needed in order to give the Veterinary Council of Ireland (VCI) the power to decide who can own veterinary practices, members of the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture said on Tuesday.

Veterinary Council representatives told the committee that it can only regulate veterinary practitioners, not who owns the practices.

Members of the Oireachtas committee queried whether decisions made by a corporate owner of a veterinary practice could tie the hands of the vets working in it.

They asked if, for example, the corporate owner decided that a practice would no longer deal with large animals, could the Veterinary Council regulate this?

The answer from Veterinary Council registrar Niamh Muldoon and president Peadar O Scanaill was that such action does not fall under the council’s legislative remit.

“Before any corporate gets involved anywhere, the only person who can provide the service and influence the practice and decide what it is going to do is the veterinary practitioner,” O Scannaill said.

“There isn’t a fourth party. The vet is the first party, we [the Veterinary Council] are the second party, the farmer is the third party.”

A report by Grant Thornton into corporate ownership of veterinary practices is expected this summer.

‘Corporates will cherry pick vet practices’

Vets have voiced concern over the Veterinary Council saying it has no role in ownership of practices. They say this effectively de-regulates the sector.

The representative body for vets, Veterinary Ireland, says that the law is clear that non-registered persons can have no involvement in the practise of veterinary medicine.

“Our big concern with the lay corporates from the UK is that it will lead to the diminution of the service to farmers,” Veterinary Ireland CEO Finbarr Murphy said.

“Corporates can cherry pick the more profitable parts of the business such as small animal services. The experience in the UK is that services become regionalised and out of hours cover is either too expensive or unavailable.”