The Lisnavagh Timber Project (LTP) is an example of a woodland owner taking the added value concept, learnt in Lancashire, and applying to his business. William Bunbury owns 100 Ha of woodland in Co Carlow, Ireland. Having seen the concept in practice in the Bowland Added Value Project he researched the opportunities for home-grown timber in Ireland and decided to develop an added value business.
Development of the project
The project has taken timber from the estate and, using contract sawing and drying services, turned it into a stock of sale-able timber. So far the main investment in the business has been a ‘dry room’, constructed to store the dried timber at the correct humidity level. This consists of a sealed and insulated building-within-.a building, with two domestic dehumidifiers to maintain a low atmospheric moisture content. William’s experience suggests that these units are unable to maintain the required relative humidity; consequently the moisture content of the timber is increasing. Proposals to install more suitable equipment are being considered. An added advantage of the dry room is it provides a presentable point of sale for customers. giving them confidence in the quality of the product.
All the boards are graded according to quality of the timber taking into account colour, knots, grain and any defects such as splits. The grading system is Lisnavagh’s own; the highest quality being “Maximum” through “Premium” and “Quality” to “Natures Cut”, the lowest grade. Whilst this system does not relate to any existing standards, it does enable buyers to have a good idea of the quality of the timber. This is helped by photographs of examples of the grades that can be sent to prospective buyers.
A unique feature of the LTP is the traceability of every plank of timber. Each tree is given a unique reference number before it is felled and details recorded about it location, species, dimensions and reasons for its removal. Digital photographs are also taken to record the tree and its surroundings. This information is then fed into a computer database. When the log is sawn, each plank is numbered and details of it size, quality and storage location are recorded. This allows every plank to be traced back to the stump it came from and allows detailed stock control records to be built up. This feature is a unique selling point, allowing the ultimate proof of sustainable production.
From the information held on the database, boards are automatically priced up and price lists can be produced for any enquiry received. If a sale is made, the programme will produce the invoice and update the stock records.
The database has been developed over the past 3 years by William and is now a powerful tool at the heart of the business.
At present, all of the timber used in the project comes from trees which have been windblown or have had to be removed for safety reasons. In the future the woodlands Will be managed to supply timber to the project through careful selective felling, on a Continuous Cover Forestry system. Sourcing timber from outside the estate is something that is being investigated. The most likely reason for bringing timber in at the moment is to supply species that are not available on the estate but which are in demand by customers.
Most of the sales of timber to date have been through word of mouth or the comprehensive web site. There are around 300 hardwood timber users on the business database, which can be targeted in a mail shot. A previous mail shot achieved a response rate of about 10%, which is quite good. The business is still in its infancy but is growing steadily. An important aspect, in these early stages of the business, is the ability to deal with enquiries and sales outside normal office hours. Many potential buyers want to do business in the evening and at weekends.
The Lisnavagh Timber Project has taken the added value concept and developed it to a point where a business is emerging. A considerable investment of time and money has been made and marketing is a key to making it a success.