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Hardwood Focus 2020 webinar: exploring markets for small-diameter broadleaves

This webinar, part of the Hardwood Focus (HF) initiative, held last month, clearly captured the imagination of many as over 400 people participated. Steven Meyen & Jonathan Spazzi, Teagasc Forestry Development report on the webinar and the “Hardwood Focus”discussion group of Broadleaf forest owners

Broadleaf forest owners in the Limerick region started a discussion group in 2018 with Teagasc facilitation, DAFM support and GMIT collaboration called “Hardwood Focus”. They are members of the Limerick Tipperary Woodland Owners (LTWO) Group.

Participants in the group are actively managing their broadleaf woodlands. Many have already carried out one or more thinning operations. They are now looking to explore markets to add value. 

The webinar was a fast-paced mix of video, presentations and a question and answer section.

First up was Ailbhe Gerrard from Brookfield Farm, a woodland owner from Co Tipperary and HF group member, who introduced the webinar. In her video, she tells the story of her farm and woodlands and why management is key to produce quality timber.

Jonathan Spazzi of Teagasc, who has been facilitating the HF initiative, discussed the timber potential of broadleaf woodlands in his presentation. He said that forest owners should aim to produce a sufficient number of trees with straight sawlog quality timber and with a diameter of between 40 and 60 cm typically.

Currently the main market for young broadleaf timber is firewood. However, as the trees grow, gradually other more valuable markets are being created. He gave examples of a few rural enterprises that create beautiful timber products originating from Irish broadleaf woodlands.

The second presentation was by Seán Garvey who collaborates actively with the HF group. He is a Furniture Design Lecturer at GMIT Letterfrack. Seán told participants that Ireland imported 42,000 m³ of sawn hardwood in 2018 with a value of €41.1 million. This included 13,000 m³ of tropical hardwoods. While during the period 2014-2018, wooden furniture imports increased by 54% to a value of €243 million. Rather than importing (tropical) hardwoods, we should substitute some of those imports for home-grown timber.

Ninety five percent of the hardwood used in the Irish furniture industry is imported! 

GMIT Letterfrack is involved in a range of research projects. One of these projects is exploring the working properties and utilisation of small diameter Irish-grown alder. Early indications are very positive: Irish alder is showing good stability and is easy to machine. Alder is also very well suited for students to practise their joinery skills, instead of having to use imported timber.

Seán concluded his presentation by saying that the focus should be on timber quality and that we need to rediscover hardwood processing and drying skills in Ireland.

The final presentation was by Dermot Doyne who is the manager of Whitney Sawmills, located on the Welsh/English border. Members of the HF group, with Teagasc facilitation, visited Whitney Sawmills in 2019 to undertake specialist hardwood milling training. In his presentation, Dermot focused on small-diameter log production and its markets. Eighty percent of their seasoned timber sales is for oak with the other 20% made up of ash, elm, sycamore, cherry and Douglas fir.

The minimum diameter they tend to saw to is 30 cm. Dermot made the point that it is possible to saw smaller than this but in timbers with sapwood like oak it becomes less viable. For instance, to cut beams, they work on a 33% yield or even as low as 25% for some oak products. Douglas can achieve a 40 to 50% yield. Whereas planking will achieve a yield of 60%. He also discussed other timber species such as ash, sycamore and alder.

Would you like to find out more? The webinar can be viewed in its entirety here: www.teagasc.ie/hardwoodfocus. If you want to watch a particular presentation, click on the relevant time stamp in the video description and your chosen presentation will start playing.

The Hardwood Focus webinar was organised by Teagasc in partnership with the Limerick Tipperary Woodland Owners and support from DAFM through the Forestry Promotion Fund.