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."