Many farmers are hesitant about planting trees and rightly so – it is a permanent land use change. It is so important that you take your time to consider your options and reasons for planting. For the majority of farmers the primary reason for planting is about maximising farm income and timber production.
Forest investment is quite unique in terms of the length of time between investment and return. The expected rotation lengths of different species can vary considerably from anywhere between 35 years for Sitka spruce to 120 years for oak. And the associated management costs and requirements can also vary greatly. Almost certainly one of the most important financial decisions a farmer will make is determining what tree species to plant. Tree species will impact the value of the timber crop but many other factors including: tree size, stem and wood quality, productive area, location, road access and harvesting costs, will also affect marketability.
All land types are not the same in their ability to grow trees. Predicting the future growth or yield of your forest is an essential part of the planning process and will help you choose the species that best suit your site and objectives. Growth rates can be estimated with a high degree of accuracy. The productive potential of forestry land is measured in yield class (YC). YC is defined as the maximum potential volume of wood of a given species that a site can produce per hectare per annum. Yield models will help you understand the productivity of your land and what could be the expected economic return based on different management regimes.
Seed source is an often overlooked but critical component to add value to a forest. Selecting appropriate seed sources will improve the overall productivity of the forest since the trees will be adapted to the environment of the planting site. The use of improved planting stock in forestry has been the subject of many studies. In almost all cases the additional costs incurred by planting improved material have been more than offset by improvements in growth, stem form and wood properties.
Other issues to consider when designing a new forest is future access and layout of forest roads. These are very important factors that will impact on the future value of the forest. The productive area of the forest must also be considered as small fragmented forests can prove costly to manage.
The success of a forest will be determined by the follow-up care it receives. Historically some farmers were sold the idea that forests did not require ongoing management, and they could close the gate and still expect to produce a good quality timber crop. This is not the case and many farmers now find that their forests have a low stocking level, areas of the forest are in check that require fertilisation or that the quality of the crop is poor.
Active forest management is essential to produce good quality stems, this will dictate the future market value of the timber. It is so important to walk your forest to monitor the survival of trees, check for animal damage such as deer, control competing vegetation, and maintain drains and firebreaks. Generally conifer plantations require less management than broadleaves. Young broadleaved forests should be checked regularly in the early years and formative shaping is essential to ensure that tree produce a single stem. The lower section of the stem is the portion of the tree that potentially yields the most valuable logs.
Thinning is one of the most powerful management tools available to a forest owner, to improve the overall quality of the forest. When preparing to harvest your forest, it is vital that you do an inventory of your forest to ascertain the volume and value of the crop. Selling timber without measuring the volume is like selling livestock without weighing the animals, you just would not do it. The inventory with the print out from the harvester head, which records the assortments and volumes of logs cut, can be compared with the weight documents to monitor timber sales and ensure that all the timber felled is delivered to the sawmill. Years of growth and value are accumulated in a couple of transactions. Before making a decision talk to other farmers, get advice, get to know the market and make sure you know the quality and quantity of timber in your forest before signing a contract.