Timber fuels success for farm entrepreneur

Investment: Tankersley farmer Robert Lodge is reaping the benefits of a �30,000 investment in processing timber for use as an eco-friendly fuel.
Investment: Tankersley farmer Robert Lodge is reaping the benefits of a �30,000 investment in processing timber for use as an eco-friendly fuel.
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BARNSLEY farmer Robert Lodge has logged on to a roaring success.

When he installed a log burning stove in his farmhouse near Tankersley, Robert suddenly found himself fielding enquiries from the village pub and then local residents, all asking him to help them source logs for their own new stoves and fires.

Robert became so adept at sourcing the difficult to find dry logs that he decided to diversify and set up his own wood fuel business.

Five years on, and after investing £30,000 in timber processing machinery, he now spends 90 per cent of his time on his timber-based business, rather than in the fields of his 400 hectare family farm.

Robert’s order book is bulging after he took to cyberspace to connect with the soaring number of customers wanting to come home to a real fire by setting up a presence on eBay, Googlemaps and Facebook.

“I never had any intentions of getting into the firewood business, but it really sort of crept up on me,” says Robert, 48.

“Initially I just used wood lying around farm for my own needs, but things took off from there. The number of people installing woodfuel boilers and log fires is really amazing. That’s partly due to the surge in energy prices making it more attractive, but there’s also a feel good factor, looking at an log fire and also using a more eco-friendly fuel.

“Generally there’s a shortage of properly seasoned timber and logs that are good to burn.”

Robert recently joined a five- day fact-finding mission to Austria, organised by the Forestry Commission and South Yorkshire Forest Partnership.

The scheme is funded by a European Union scheme called Activating Forest Owners, which has invested €200,000 into South Yorkshire over two years to boost the woodfuel sector.

Robert says: “Austria is still far more advanced than we are and has lots more biomass boilers, but we are moving in their direction as oil prices keep on going up.

“The trip made me even more optimistic about the future. But we need to get more local woodlands producing timber in South Yorkshire. At the moment most of my supplies come from other parts of the country, especially the Midlands. Bu there are lots of neglected woods here that should be put back to work.”

The Forestry Commission’s Rudie Humphrey says: “Robert’s experience shows the two sides of the story. Woodfuel is an opportunity to create profitable rural businesses and employment, but we need more raw materials coming out of local woods.”