11 September 1998

Welsh unit finds trees a cashable asset

JOHN Pryce, who runs 225 ewes and 80 beef cattle at Aberbechan Farm, near Newtown in Powys, accepts that his family business is likely to face increasing economic pressures.

For some time the income his wife Denise earns from guests staying in part of their 15th century farmhouse has been important. Now adding value to timber harvested from 12ha (30 acres) of woodland is also generating extra cash.

Until seven years ago the oak, ash, cherry and birch woodland had remained unmanaged, for about 80 years. A little timber was cut for farm use, but the trees were not regarded as cashable assets until Mr Pryce came in contact with Coed Cymru, the agency dedicated to encouraging the management of native woodlands.

Now stock is excluded and regeneration has started. For three years hardwood thinnings have been sawn by a contractor using the double bladed saw developed by Coed Cymru to process small diameter timber. This turns material that may be worth £20/t as firewood into a product suitable for furniture or floors. If dried to about 12% moisture this can sell for £350/t.

Mr Pryce already air dries timber for 12 months in the wood and in barns. Some is also kiln dried by Coed Cymu, including ash that is to be used to make the pews in a new church in Swansea.

To be able meet customer specifications on farm he is now planning to make his own kiln from an old refrigerated van. Oak bark is also stripped each spring and sold for leather tanning.

"We do much of the general woodland management ourselves and bring contractors in for harvesting and sawing. The expense involved can only be justified if value is added to the timber. With Coed Cymrus help we have found both local and distant customers for a range of timbers."

Mr Pryce also believes there is a strong environmental case for more EU native woodland management incentives. &#42