Jonathan and Betty Sykes estimate that last year alone they saved € 20,000 in heating oil by burning the byproducts of thinning their 20-hectare, 20-year-old hardwood forest.
And that’s before counting the profits from the sale of large logs by truck to Liston Fuel Logs, a local firewood dealer; the smaller logs feed their own boiler at the tourist accommodation they run in Springfield, County Limerick.
When Jonathan and Betty planted their woods, they were looking to create different sources of income, first from forest subsidies, then from sales of firewood and timber.
They also wanted to provide recreational opportunities for their guests.
Today, their young deciduous forests produce substantial amounts of firewood.
By thinning out lower quality trees, more growing space is provided for the better trees, which will ultimately produce valuable saw logs. – good quality large diameter wood. The lower quality wood is firewood.
Wood is a source of heat, electricity and even local biofuel, renewable, sustainable, carbon neutral and safe.
Ireland has excellent timber growing conditions. Growing and using wood as an energy source is replacing large amounts of imported fossil fuels and increasing our self-sufficiency, playing an important role in helping to ensure Ireland’s long-term energy security.
Farmers are well placed to benefit, as wood producers and as profitable wood fuel users. As most of the plantings over the past 25 years have been carried out by farmers, most of the fuelwood will be supplied by farmers in the years to come.
Energy wood is mainly made up of poor quality wood collected during harvesting operations.
When thinning a forest, the focus should be on removing lower quality trees from the start. This material can then be used as fuelwood.
Firewood can be harvested locally, processed locally, and provide a locally renewable source of heat. This is a win-win situation for the local forest producer, the consumer and the environment.
Sources of firewood
Sawing can be produced more quickly by thinning a forest. Large volumes of pulpwood (smaller diameter and lower quality wood) are produced in the first thinnings.
This pulpwood can be sold in local fuelwood markets, making early thinning more financially viable, especially in small forests.
Quality control and humidity level
Ned Liston, who created Liston Fuel Logs 10 years ago, says the importance of drying cannot be overstated.
After felling, the timber should be stacked in a well-ventilated place and dried to a moisture content of about 20 pc.
Quite often, the firewood offered for sale still requires significant additional drying at home.
Don’t be tempted to burn wet wood. Allow to dry until the humidity is reduced to around 20pc, otherwise the heat of the wood will be used to dry it in the appliance rather than heat the room.
Burning wet wood damages the chimney, contributes to chimney fires and causes pollution due to incomplete combustion. Do not burn wet wood!
Wood fuels must offer constant, reliable and standardized quality. Wood fuels that do not meet the strictest European standards can cause emissions problems and damage heating systems and the reputation of the wood burning industry.
Quality, size and uniformity, water content, calorific value and (lack of) impurities are important.
Potential buyers should check the quality of the firewood offered for sale. The Firewood Quality Assurance Program (WFQA) for Ireland is an island-wide program set up to increase consumer confidence in firewood products sold in Ireland. See www.wfqa.org
Focus hardwood – production of firewood from thinned hardwoods
This webinar on Thursday, October 7 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. will focus on the efficient production of firewood from young hardwood forests.
It will include two short informative videos, a live presentation and a live studio panel to discuss participants’ questions.
A timely first and second thinning is essential to provide the best trees with space for vigorous growth, enabling the production of more valuable hardwood saw logs.
The wood from the first thinning operations is a by-product of management.
The firewood market, supported by DAFM thinning grants, provides forest owners with additional initial income.
The first video will show a second recent thinning operation led by Jonathan Sykes in his Co Limerick woods.
The second video will explain how commercial firewood processing is done by Ned and John Liston of Liston Fuel Logs.
This will be followed by a presentation by Noel Gavigan of the IrBEA on firewood as a source of renewable energy.
Topics covered will include:
■ Best practices for thinning operations;
■ Management grants available;
■ Commercial production of firewood;
■ Firewood as a source of renewable green energy.
Registration is required at www.teagasc.ie/hardwoodfocus
Steven Meyen is a Teagasc forest advisor based in Ballybofey; [email protected]