The price is right with spruce foresight

9 Jan , 2019  

During the course of four decades of sterling service to Coillte, Mick Power has provided invaluable assistance to the countless Irish farmers and landowners who are growing private plantations nationwide. We touched base with the amiable Kilkenny man to find out more.

At the 2018 RDS Spring Agriculture & Forestry Awards, Andrew O’Carroll from Kilkenny scooped the prestigious inaugural Teagasc Farm Forestry Award. From Rathcash, Clifden, Andrew farms a total of 140 acres, 47 of which are in forestry.

The award-winning forest was planted in 2005 and is in three blocks, all of which contain the same species mix – 80% Sitka Spruce, 15% Japanese larch and 5% alder. Back in ‘05, he was considering options for his farm’s long-term financial security and, following consultation with fellow Kilkenny man Mick Power of Coillte, decided to plant some of his poorer quality agricultural land.

This land was on higher ground than the rest of the farm and had a shorter grazing season. With the money generated from the 20-year guaranteed premium, Andrew rented an equivalent amount of good agricultural land on a long-term lease. It has proven to be a prudent and profitable move and long-servicing Coillte employee Mick Power – currently National Estate Risk Manager with Ireland’s state-owned commercial forestry body – was not surprised to see Andrew’s plantation come up trumps:

“He came to me as a dyed-in-the-wool farmer who had about 20 hectares of poorer-type agricultural land and the plan was to plant a commercial forestry crop on this land and then to rent better-quality land in the valley,” Mick reflects. “This gave him the opportunity to continue farming with better-quality land, whilst also setting a block of land aside as a pension fund. This excellent high-yield Sitka Spruce crop – with a little larch and alder – was judged favourably by his peers at the RDS Awards.”

For farmers with some poorer land, this strategy of diverting it into forestry plantations is a great way of maximising income off their land while simultaneously lowering their carbon footprint. “Thinner plantations, managed properly, grow more vigorously and tie up more carbon,” Mick continues. “Climate change is going to become a major element over the next four or five years and we are lagging way behind, having actually upped our carbon production.

“This is partly due to dairy farmers, understandably, upping their herd sizes since the quotas were abolished. To plant more land with forestry is one easy way to overcome this. And, believe me, there is a lot of poor land in Ireland. 11% of Ireland is under forestry now but this country could easily go up to 50% forest cover. And you don’t need Sitka Spruce either. Birch and larch can also sequester carbon and farmers can then keep all the good land in agri production, be it tillage, dairy or beef.

“People are really struggling in areas where the land is poor and this winter has tested a lot of people’s resolve again. It’s a real struggle and I know because I have four brothers in full-time farming and I know that farmers are working hard, 24/7, 365 days a year.”

Having joined Coillte nigh on 40 years ago, Mick was at the forefront of the private forestry drive in the early 1990s. He was heavily involved in the private planting programme from the 1990s through to 2010, before taking in his current role of National Estate Risk Manager, which sees him manage biotic risk, diseases, security, etc.

Andrew O’Carroll’s farm was one of many planted during these years and Mike was both delighted and unsurprised to see this plantation recognised at the 2018 RDS Spring Agriculture & Forestry Awards – a rare occasion where farmers across all sectors come together to celebrate all they have achieved. The goal of the RDS Agriculture and Rural Affairs programme is to promote best practice and efficiency in farming and forestry to ensure farm household profitability and sustainability in Ireland.

Livestock farmers and foresters came together in the RDS Concert Hall on Wednesday, April 4th to both celebrate their achievements and learn from each other, with two main award categories, namely livestock and forestry.

“These awards are a very good idea and Coillte are very supportive of them,” says Mick. “The Teagasc Award has been newly set up to promote the proper management and thinning of these plantations, which are all now coming to the stage where they need thinning. The benefits of thinning are that it gives space to the trees to develop and takes out trees that are competing with one another. You have to create space for final-crop tree development ahead of clearfell.”

Andrew O’Carroll’s crop has an above-average yield class. “The average Spruce crop yields 18 tonnes of timber per hectare but Andrew’s plantation is putting on 26-27 tonnes of timber per hectare per annum, which is a huge growth rate,” Mick notes. “This is a great example of what Teagasc were looking for when they got involved in these awards.

“To be honest, when I saw the new category coming into play, I knew he would win it. Teagasc want people to not just concentrate on the premiums, which last 20 years. There is much more than 20 years in these forests. They just need to be managed and brought to their finality. That’s where the big money is. The sawmills will be gathering around looking to do business at that stage.”

Mick is keen to point out that there are literally thousands of Coillte clients like Andrew O’Carroll out there: “From the 1990s up until now, between 10,000 and 15,000 farmers planted parts of their farms with forestry. The scheme is still going but it needs a revamp as it has run out of steam. There’s still huge potential there and climate change is a big factor.

“Planting trees is one sure way to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It’s a proven method of locking up carbon, which is what climate change is all about.”

Coillte – who also won the Multipurpose Forestry Award for Curraghchase Forest Park at the RDS Agriculture & Forestry Awards – is a commercial forestry company, owned by the State, that manages approximately 7% of Ireland’s land. Coillte operate three strong businesses from this land – their core forestry business, a wood panels manufacturing business, and a land solutions business, exporting to over 30 countries worldwide.

Forestry in Ireland has a history which stretches back almost one hundred years but its development has accelerated since Coillte was established in 1989, when the company left the Civil Service and became a commercial semi-state. Coillte’s forests and land now extend to over 440,000 hectares. Over the last 30 years, they have cared for and developed their estate and businesses while being firmly focused on maximising the financial and social potential of these natural resources in a sustainable way.

Mick Power, part of the Coillte team since its inception, points out that forestry in Ireland is in a good place right now: “There are 14,000 people employed in forestry and 40% of the forestry stock is now privately-owned.

“We have two ultra modern [MEDITE SMARTPLY] mills in Waterford and Clonmel producing very high-quality sustainable timber construction panels, mainly for the export market, and you have major spin-off effects from all of our activities.

“Then there are the commercial mills, employing hundreds, and the haulage work generated around that. 21,000 truckloads of timber come into Clonmel every year, for example, and that all generates jobs and money for the local economy. When an industry starts to roll, as forestry has, it gathers a lot of momentum. Timber produced in Ireland is a generic, wholly Irish product – like beef or dairy – which is produced here and the money stops here and everybody gets their cut.

“On top of the jobs element, you also have the recreation element,” Mick continues. “Coillte operate an open forest policy and the likes of Avondale Forest Park in Wicklow and Rossmore Forest Park in Monaghan, to name just a couple, as well as our various mountain bike trails and amenities, are all open to the public. All these parks are Coillte-owned and –managed and admission is free, which is a big element of it. 18,000,000 forest visits are made in Ireland every year and the sites are very valuable assets of the Irish people.”

As National Estate Risk Manager, one of Mick’s primary concerns is to protect these assets and maintain their inherent value: “This was a new post created to address the whole issue of ash dieback disease, which had a major impact on one of our native species, and also to guard against other diseases that came along,” he reveals.

“It’s a direct consequence of globalisation, to a large degree, because containers, boats and planes travel all over the world now and there is always that danger that something unsavoury will be brought in with them.

“I keep a close eye on developments and identify what pathogens are out there that could affect our forests. This involves a lot of horizon scanning. These problems are inevitable because of the world we live in – they can’t be prevented due to free trade so you have to manage the problems that come at you.

“As we are members of the EU, with an open border, there are a lot of organic materials coming in,” the Kilkenny man concludes. “There’s no point challenging it because this is a consequence of trade and we all benefit from trade. Ash for example, is a valuable species, which needs to be protected and supported. with 300 people employed in the hurley-making industry alone. We can’t cure disease but we can breed for resistance and we will have resistant ash inside the next two-three years.”


Dublin Road,



Co. Wicklow


Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 6 No 5, August 2018