Farm forestry has the potential to replace 58m litres of home heating oil


Exciting new Teagasc research indicates that private investment in forestry provides a massive opportunity for the wood energy sector in Ireland.

Thinnings from privately-owned forests could help to reduce the dependence of domestic and commercial consumers on oil for their heating needs.

There are nearly 60,000 hectares of forestry now over 15 years of age and research indicates that two-thirds of these plantations are ready for thinning. Annual output from the private sector has the potential to rise from its current level of just 100,000 cubic metres per annum, up to 1.1 million cubic metres per annum by 2015.

Private planting of forests increased in the 1990s and these are now maturing for harvest. It is anticipated that half of the landowners will opt to thin, which could lift the annual output to 550,000 cubic metres per annum by 2015. A high percentage of this thinning volume - 340,000 cubic metres - has the potential to supply the wood energy market. This energy resource is equivalent to 2.24 million giga-joules - or 58 million litres of home heating oil. That is enough energy to heat 58,000 houses, based on an average sized house using 1,000 litres of home heating oil each year.

Speaking at the Bioenergy '08 conference in Athenry on Friday 20 June, Teagasc forestry researcher Niall Farrelly said - "Because of the nature and composition of farmer-owned plantations, the wood energy markets offer farmers the opportunity to sell their produce to new and growing markets - particularly in areas where no market opportunities previously existed. It also offers farmers the opportunity to have their plantations thinned. In order to realise this potential, it is crucial that farmers thin plantations where appropriate."

New research - sponsored by COFORD and presented at Bioenergy '08 in Athenry - aims to investigate the structures to quantify, locate and market timber for forest owners. It is planned to develop a framework for the optimal quantification of the wood resources from farm forests using clustering techniques.

Recent initiatives in Clare and Donegal have used the produce of first-thinning to supply the wood energy market for local and municipal heating requirements. Teagasc has been instrumental in setting up timber producer groups across the country, together with local stakeholders.

Teagasc forestry development officer, Steven Meyen said - "Local farmers are pooling their resources together, so that they can offer the market a secure multi-annual supply of timber. The producer group in Donegal is already managing approximately 10,000 acres - making these farmers the heat suppliers of the future."