Jonathan Sykes runs tourist accommodation with his wife Betty in Springfield, Co Limerick. They planted twenty hectares of broadleaf woodlands twenty years ago. Steven Meyen, Teagasc Forestry Development Officer looks at firewood income potential and the business of firewood at Liston Fuel Logs
The Sykes wanted to create different income streams. First from the attractive forestry grants and then later from firewood and timber sales. But they also wanted to provide recreational opportunities for their guests.
Now, twenty years on, their young broadleaf woodlands are generating substantial amounts of firewood. By thinning out the lesser quality trees, more growing space is provided to the better quality trees. These quality trees will eventually produce valuable sawlog. Sawlog will fetch much higher prices than firewood.
Jonathan uses the smaller logs to feed their own boiler. He was telling me that last year alone, they saved €20,000 in heating oil. The larger logs are sold by lorryload to Liston Fuel Logs, a local firewood dealer.
Wood energy is a home-grown, renewable, sustainable, carbon-neutral and secure source of heat, electricity and even bio-fuel.
Ireland has excellent wood growing conditions: growing and using wood as a source of energy displaces large amounts of imported fossil fuels, increases our self-sufficiency and therefore play an important role in helping to secure Ireland’s long-term energy security.
Farmers are in a good position to benefit: both as growers of energy wood but also as users of cost-effective wood energy. As most planting over the last twenty five years has been carried out by farmers, most energy wood will be supplied by farmers in the coming years.
Energy wood consists mainly of low quality wood removed during harvesting operations. When thinning a forest, the focus early on should be on the removal of lesser quality trees. This material can then be used as energy wood. By removing the poorer quality trees, more space is provided to the better quality trees. The better quality trees will eventually produce valuable sawlog later on.
Wood fuel can be harvested locally, processed locally and provide a source of renewable heat locally. This is a win-win situation for the local farm forest grower, the consumer and the environment.
Wood fuel sources
Ireland’s soil and climatic conditions are excellent for tree growth. Sawlog (large diameter wood of good quality) is and will remain for the foreseeable future the most profitable product that a farm forest can produce. Sawlog can be produced more quickly by thinning a forest. Large volumes of pulpwood (smaller diameter wood of lesser quality) are produced in early thinnings.
This pulpwood can be sold into local energy wood markets thus making early thinnings more financially viable, particularly in smaller forests.
Quality control and moisture content
Ned Liston set up a firewood business ten years ago. He now runs Liston Fuel Logs with his son John. Ned says that the importance of sufficient drying cannot be overstated.
After felling, the wood should be stacked in a well-ventilated location and dried down to a moisture content of approximately 20%.
Quite often, firewood offered for sale still requires (substantial) additional drying at home. Don’t be tempted to burn wet wood. Let it dry out until the moisture content is brought down to approx. 20%, otherwise the wood's heat will be used to dry it in the appliance rather than heating the room.
Burning damp wood damages the chimney, contributes to chimney fires and causes pollution due to incomplete combustion. Don’t burn wet wood!
Wood fuels need to offer a consistent, reliable, standardised quality. Wood fuels that do not conform to the highest European standards can cause emission problems, damage heating systems and the reputation of the wood heating industry.
The quality, size and uniformity, moisture content, calorific value and (lack of) impurities are very important issues.
Potential buyers must verify the quality of the wood fuel offered for sale. The Wood Fuel Quality Assurance (WFQA) scheme for Ireland is an all-island scheme established to increase consumer confidence in wood fuel products sold in Ireland. To find out more, visit www.wfqa.org.
Watch Jonathan Sykes talk about firewood production in the video below
Watch Ned Liston talk about firewood processing in the video below
For more videos on forestry topics see www.youtube.com/teagascforestryvideos
The Teagasc Forestry Department issues an article on a Forestry topic every Friday here on Teagasc Daily
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