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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The farmer's daily wrap: Energy in Agriculture and arrest over land dispute
Here is your news round-up of the top five farming stories today, Tuesday 21 August.

Weather

Wednesday morning will start misty and mostly cloudy, with the rain and drizzle becoming patchy and scattered over Leinster and east Munster, according to Met Éireann. It will dry out quickly elsewhere, with some bright spells developing. It will be bright in all areas in the afternoon, with sunny spells at times and dry apart from the odd light shower. Top temperatures will range from 15°C to 19°C. Moderate to fresh southwest breezes will veer northwesterly as the rain clears.

Wednesday night will be cooler, clearer and less humid than recent nights with lowest temperatures of 10°C or 11°C. It will start off dry but showers will develop in the west and northwest during the night.

In the news

  • Farmers and renewable energy professionals showed both eagerness for the imminent launch of support schemes and frustration at delays such as those in obtaining a connection to the national electricity grid at the Energy in Agriculture open day.
  • Skibbereen and Bandon credit union has launched a fodder support loan.
  • There was a strong turnout of store bullocks in Bandon on Tuesday with in-spec stock well sought after.
  • Two arrests were made in Ferns, Co Wexford, on Tuesday, where 150ac is at the centre of a land dispute.
  • Paul Clabby, a Roscommon farmer from Four Mile House, has claimed the 2018 escort of the year title at the Rose of Tralee festival.
  • Coming up on Wednesday

  • Full coverage from the Virginia Show.
  • We reveal the speakers at this year's ASA conference.
    Listen: hope and bottlenecks at Energy in Agriculture 2018
    Several hundred farmers attended the annual farm energy open day, where discussions swung between progress on Government support and continuing hurdles to renewable projects.

    Farmers and renewable energy professionals showed both eagerness for the imminent launch of support schemes and frustration at delays such as those in obtaining a connection to the national electricity grid at this Tuesday’s Energy in Agriculture open day.

    Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten and other Government officials confirmed that support schemes would open for renewable heat this year and electricity next year – but, in both cases, the tranches supporting farmers most directly will only open at a later stage.

    Grants

    The grants opened this month for domestic solar photovoltaic panels may also extend to farm buildings in the future, but this is at the “analysis” stage, Minister Naughten said. However, he insisted that “all of these policies will provide real opportunities for rural Ireland and for the farming community”.

    IFA renewables project chair Tom Short said the €300m pledged so far for the Support Scheme for Renewable Heat was “a pittance” and more incentives were needed to develop the industry. Yet, there was no sign of new farm-level support for energy crops from Department of Agriculture officials.

    Smaller attendance

    With attention focused elsewhere by the weather crisis, the attendance at the event in Gurteen College, Co Tipperary, was smaller this year than at previous events. There were fewer onlookers and more farmers with concrete projects in the pipeline – many of whom complained of continuing delays in obtaining a grid connection to sell their renewable electricity.

    Co Wicklow sheep farmer Ashley Bourne told the Irish Farmers Journal that he had been waiting for two years for a connection from ESB Networks for a planned solar farm on 4ac of his land and did not know how much longer he would have to wait. Listen to his interview in our podcast below:

    Listen to "Farmer waits two years for solar energy connection" on Spreaker.

    New priority rules for grid connections favour people like Ashley, who have secured planning permission. But they have only been in place since May and have not yet had an effect on the backlog of hundreds of applications in the queue.

    They have, however, increased confidence among European investors willing to put money into renewable energy projects on Irish farmland, according to Michael Moore of renewable energy development firm, Elgin Energy.

    Connecting farmers

    Along with the ESB, Bord na Móna was highlighted by Minister Naughten as the main future link to connect farmers with markets on the biomass side of the industry. Both semi-state companies were absent from the event’s exhibitors and speakers.

    Read more in this week's Irish Farmers Journal.

    Read more

    Bright future for on-farm renewables

    Renewable electricity schemes to generate questions at Energy in Agriculture

    Turning trees into cash

    Rooftop solar scheme attractive for smaller farms

    West Cork credit union launches fodder support loan
    The loan is for up to €20,000 and payments are offered on a monthly, seasonal or annual basis.

    Skibbereen and Bandon credit union has launched a fodder support loan. The new “acre fodder loan” offers a borrowing of up to €20,000. The credit union is offering repayments on a monthly, seasonal or annual basis. Rates start from 6.99%.

    Cashflow risk

    The aim of the loan is to minimise farmers’ cashflow risk by spreading the unforeseen cost over the next few seasons.

    Dominic Casey of Muintir credit union in Skibbereen said: “We recognise that farmers are in difficulty and that current cashflow is a problem. Our ethos in the credit union is to support the farmer and the local community. The loan is in response to the fodder crisis. Our aim is to allow farmers to buy what they need now.”

    Read more

    Farm loans now available from Co Cork credit unions