Worrell Harvesting – a pioneer in wood biomass

24 Jul , 2019  

Pioneering whole-tree harvesting in Ireland, Worrell Harvesting are leading the way in wood biomass. Irish Tractor & Agri travelled to Ballybrittas in County Laois and interrupted founder Kenneth Worrell’s busy schedule to get an update on developments at this progressive, family-run company, which provides a complete range of forestry services.

As the complete forestry company, Worrell Harvesting offers a wide range of services, from timber harvesting and haulage to whole-tree harvesting (reforestation costs are reduced as they remove brash in almost its entirety), site clearance and farm forestry.

In recent times, the County Laois based operator – established in 1992 and fronted by brothers Kenneth, Colin and Neil Worrell – has moved more and more into the market of biomass harvesting and supplying woodchip for energy, investing up to €3.6 m in expanding this side of the business.

The perfect way of getting energy from nature, Worrell woodchip is the cleaner, greener option. At present, as a nation, we rely on fossil fuels to provide 90% of our energy … but fossil fuels are expensive, environmentally unfriendly and are becoming depleted. They create high CO2 emissions and expose Ireland to heavy penalties under the Kyoto Protocol.

In contrast, woodchip /  biomass is home grown, renewable, sustainable, carbon neutral, non-polluting and environmentally friendly.

Woodchip is a natural product derived from trees grown in Irish forests. Worrell Harvesting sources its woodchip from pine and spruce harvested from local forests and delivers nationwide using walking floors or tipping trailers. Moisture content is available from 25% to 60%. As the company has a large supply of logs and woodchip in stock, security of supply is guaranteed.

Forestry owners can get up to 100% more for their forests (over 100 tonnes per hectare in 1st thinnings when full tree is harvested and all the small dead trees are removed) by partnering with Worrell Harvesting, who are always looking to secure timber from private growers be that from clearfell, thinning, fire-damaged wooded areas, roadside timber or trees removed for motorway maintenance / roadway construction, hedgerows etc. They purchase both hardwood (where the stem is used for firewood and tops of trees go for biomass use) and softwood and provide prompt payment.

Supplying woodchip in different grades for boilers, animal bedding and horse gallops, Worrell Harvesting have been involved in biomass for the last ten years and the treatment of brash has changed considerably in that time. Over that time, they have adapted harvesting methods to suit various sites to get the maximum return for the grower, finding that not one method fits all. The Irish climate is so wet that the brash can rot instead of losing moisture if not harvested and stacked correctly.

Worrell Harvesting’s increasing involvement in biomass / woodchip offers great benefits to landowners. “We can provide a biomass harvesting options to the landowner and maximise the return of commercial and pallet logs, pulp and the waste branches from the forest,” Kenneth notes. “It’s an ideal way of getting more money for the grower and reducing reforestation costs, whilst also meeting our targets going forward under the SSRH  (Support Scheme for Renewable Heat), which hopefully is coming out shortly.

“There is going to be growing demand for this product and landowners can supply it in a sustainable way. The ESB are putting up a tender and suggesting that they might have to import woodchip – but why import it when we already have it? We have our own energy source here in Ireland, ready for harvesting, so why not use it?”

Prior to setting up Worrell Harvesting, the Laois man had operated two teams, one in the east and one in the west, each with 15 men with chainsaws harvesting softwood forestry plantations. When the company was formed, the first machine was a Brunett 678. Six months later, they bought their first harvester, a Norcar 490 with Silvatec harvesting head.

The Worrells moved into haulage in 1998, and by 2003 had ten trucks on the road, generally hauling their own logs and biomass. They have continued to invest in machinery, constantly replenishing and upgrading their state-of-the-art, specialist fleet. To this end, Worrell Harvesting have recently taken delivery of two new Scania 580 V8 trucks from Sweden and two Legras walking floor trailers, which were manufactured in France.

The current inventory of equipment comprises eleven trucks, 15 timber trailers, six walking floor trailers, two chippers, two Ponsse Scorpions Harvesters , three John Deere harvesters and seven forwarders, with two more machines  on order.

The chippers – an American CBI 484 800 hp high output mounted on a Volvo truck with Kelsa crane and a Komptech 5010 480 hp mounted on a MAN truck with an Epsilon crane – offer Worrell Harvesting the capacity to produce up to 100,000 tonnes of woodchip per annum.

Longstanding woodchip customers include Aurivo Co-op, Danone Nutrition Ireland, Bord Na Mona, Edenderry Power Masonite. and a growing number of other businesses, large and small.

Kenneth feels that the woodchip market in Ireland at present is under-developed. He says that all the forestry industry can do is push product to the market and trust that the aforementioned SSRH incentives will generate a good market for biomass. If this is not done, then the product will have to be exported, with enquiries for biomass already received from England, Sweden and Denmark.

New methods of harvesting can massively increase the return from stands of timber and reduce reforestation costs. Worrell Harvesting have devised an efficient method of biomass harvesting whereby they do not drive on the brash and harvest the tree in a different direction. The logs are taken to the roadside in the normal way. The brash is left in heaps around the site so they will lose their needles for a period of six-twelve months, the length of time dependent on season of harvesting and weather conditions.

The brash is collected when the needles have fallen off. The branches are extracted with a specially-adapted forwarder and piled on the side of the road for two-three months before chipping.

One of the many benefits of this method is that the site is left clean and tidy, ready to plant with no windrowing required. Furthermore, the needles are spread all over the site for nutrient value and not limited to windrows, while the maintenance and establishment is a lot easier as the ground is clean.

Also, the grower gets a return on branches and it allows for a full stocking of trees for the next crop with a higher value tree (no heavy-branched trees beside the windrows). Additionally, it is easier to thin the next crop and the risk of windblow is also reduced.

With the demand for wood energy biomass on the rise as more and more companies strive to reduce their carbon footprints by switching their energy source from non-renewable fossil fuels to renewable wood, whole-tree harvesting has become an extremely attractive proposition.

As Worrell Harvesting specialise in harvesting all above-ground biomass, they are helping growers to extract maximum value from their woodlands.

The advantages of biomass harvesting in clearfells are manifold. Essentially, the grower gets more money from his forest. This is an area that Kenneth Worrell has pioneered in Ireland, taking inspiration from his peers in Scandinavia, and one that is generating a significant increase in business.

Removing the biomass amounts to better and more efficient forest management, generating more revenue for the grower, resulting in a clean and tidy site, lower greenhouse gases and a lower cost of getting the brash windrow. The next generation crop will have a full stocking of trees – 14% of the land for replanting can be taken up with windrows. Reducing the risk of windblow in the next crop because the 1st harvesting operation is not affected or restricted when there is no windrows. This crop in turn will have a higher value

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Forestry owners to get better value from your forest contact us for free Quote and no management charges.

Worrell Harvesting Ltd,

Killenure, Ballybrittas, Portlaoise, County Laois.

Tel: 045 529574 | Mobile: 087 2599372 | Fax: 045 529575 | Email: [email protected] | Web: www.worrellharvesting.ie

Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 7 No 2, April/May 2019