23 May 2022

Longford Leader Farming: Harvesting a valuable crop

Longford Leader Farming: Harvesting a valuable crop

Michael Owens in his productive farm forest.

Farm forests can provide benefits, enhancing the rural landscape and creating local employment.

Well planned forests can be very complementary and providing economic, environmental and social benefits.

This is evidenced from a recent harvest by Kilkenny farmer Michael Owens.

Michael runs a mainly dairy enterprise in Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny, milking 125 cows on a holding of almost 80 hectares.

Having trained in forestry, Michael’s late father planted 2.5 hectares of mainly spruce 29 years ago.

He actually wanted to plant more but this went contrary to advice at the time. Michael has reaped the rewards of his late fathers informed decision, having overseen the final harvest and sale of the timber.

It matured rapidly following two thinnings.

According to Michael: ‘we are very happy with the way the harvesting worked out, the whole job was done in 3 days, it has produced over 750 tonne and the price we will receive is about €55 per tonne, perhaps even more.

“We are lucky timber prices are strong at the moment. It will cost over 10% of the money we receive to replant and put it back, the remainder is tax free anyway.”

Timber prices can vary over time and according to a range of factors such as tree quality, forest type, woodlot size and access.

Managed forests are exempt from income tax but subject to relevant USC and PRSI charges.

With the strong demand for timber at present, forest owners can have a very valuable crop on their land.

Michael was impressed with the timber and financial return from his forest, explaining that “It yielded pretty well, it was fairly straight and the product breakdown is 45% sawlog, 37% pallet wood and the remainder is going to pulp. So that’s pretty decent for forestry.”

Michael is also very aware of the need for protection and enhancement of his farm environment.

He describes how ‘number one, the weather was super, the ground was bone dry, there wasn’t a mark on the ground, but the brash was piled up in rows along the site and the forwarder (collecting the timber) travelled along these. Basically it doesn’t touch the ground and didn’t impact with the soil in any way’.

The existing broadleaf trees in the forest were also retained and Michael will replant a further 10% through the site for environmental and aesthetic reasons’.

Michael can now make plans for his forestry returns. He is aware that ‘when you are farming you have a lot of options for what you are going to do with money. Michael’s family is top of his priority list and he is keen to invest in their future: ‘I have 4 small children and hopefully they might go to college’.

Many farmers like Michael have the potential to diversify their on-farm resource and future potential income streams. Through whole-farm planning, forests can be integrated into existing farms and provide options on appropriate land parcels. In this way, forestry premiums, combined with retained basic payments and income tax-free timber returns can diversify income streams and enhance family farm income. For a younger farmer forestry is an ideal way to pay off that mortgage on a new family home. And for older farmers a forest makes for an ideal pension pot.

Michael is now looking forward to getting his forest planted again and seeing the next forest establish and rapidly grow, adding ‘hopefully when I am about 70 I will get some retirement money out of it. It’s not like anything else its, tax free as well, you get what you get and it’s yours’.

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