Trees: From Seed to Sawdust – Episode 17 – Farm Forestry from an IFA Perspective
Andrew O’Carroll is Kilkenny’s Representative on the National IFA Farm Forestry Committee and Monica meets him and Michael Somers, Forestry Advisor with Teagasc and regular contributor to this series, at Andrew’s Sitka Spruce plantation in Ballygorteen, Paulstown to chat about all things forestry.
First to the annual RDS Forest and Woodland Awards which Andrew O’Carroll won in 2018 in the Teagasc Farm Forestry Award category. One of the secrets to his success, he believes, is that he planted the right tree in the right place. Ballygorteen in on the side of the Castlecomer Plateau and the soil isn’t very productive for grassland but it’s great for growing Sitka Spruce. Sitka Spruce to all intents and purposes is like any other crop except for the fact that it has a 30-year growth cycle. It is used in the timber industry in Ireland and it’s great for hoovering up the carbon dioxide in the air – carbon dioxide being a greenhouse gas whose presence in the atmosphere is contributing to global warming.
In fact, Michael Somers says that is the third best tree in the world for sequestering carbon. Michael has brought his hypsometer with him to the plantation which is an instrument that’s used to measure the height of trees. Andrew’s trees are doing really well, and they need thinning.
A license is needed to thin or clear fell a plantation like Andrew’s. According to a recent report the Department of Agriculture is currently processing 100 such licenses a week but still there is a bit of a backlog which Andrew believes could, and may well be, addressed through reforms of the licencing process. In meantime though, with his IFA hat on, Andrew is anxious that licences for small private forestry owners are not relegated to the bottom of the pile in favour of the bigger Coillte plantations. It’s the small private landowners after all who are key to the development of the forestry industry in Ireland
Another potential key to the forestry industry, particularly in relation to carbon, is the potential carbon sink of Ireland’s hedgerows which up to now have not been included in the nation’s carbon accounts. According to Andrew including hedgerow cover alone in Carlow and Kilkenny would double the percentage of land currently under forestry – and who knows how much carbon that could be. A good hedgerow gives Michael Somers great joy, and he believes they need to be cared for depending on their age and type.
Ash die back is currently decimating the hedgerows in Ireland and it has also had a big impact on forestry owners with ash plantations. It’s tough on them seeing their potential pension pot dissolve in front of their eyes. There are options that the Department could offer to help their situation says Andrew while adding that he sees great potential in the forestry sector.
Michael also sees great potential in the sector, and great potential for harnessing new markets in the hardwood industry which is still relatively untapped here in Ireland. And while carbon is important and Sitka Spruce ticks that box, it is also important to keep biodiversity in mind too when considering planting options. A mixture of trees is best. But carbon leads us on to carbon credits and carbon trading and that grey area that will in time be sorted. In the meantime, it’s the right tree, in the right place, its carbon, biodiversity, and it’s an income stream too. Get someone like Michael out with the hypsometer is Andrew’s appeal to landowners about to clear fell or thin – get the best price for your timber by knowing it’s value.