On Wednesday I attended the National Ploughing Championships in New Ross in Wexford. Wet gear, jeans, wellys, and a big smile on my face all I needed for the day.
What can I say about the ploughing that hasn’t already been said or written?, except that every man woman and child in this country should be given a pair of wellys, a rain poncho and a ticket for a day at the ploughing championships. We would have an energised, happy proud nation of people ready for whatever comes our way!
The official reason for my visit was in my capacity of Chair of the WFQA Oversight Committee, a title I carry with pride.
The Minister of State for Forestry at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Shane McEntee, TD attended to present certificates to the latest wood fuel producers to secure membership of the Wood Fuel Quality Assurance (WFQA) scheme for Ireland.
So what is the WFQA?
The full title is the Wood Fuel Quality Assurance (WFQA) scheme for Ireland.
Mainland Europe has never moved away from using wood fuel for heating, but here in Ireland we embraced the idea of automatic oil and gas central heating systems in the late 50’s /early 60’s. Wood was relegated to the open fire along with turf and coal.
However, early in the new millennium, with fears over the long term availability of oil and gas, using wood fuel for heating started to make a comeback, but in modernised, more automated systems, using wood chip and wood pellet.
And as is usual, when new technology hits the marketplace, it brings its fair share of “ne’er do wells!” The wood fuel sector was no exception to the rule!
Shoddy equipment appeared on the shelves, the cowboy army came marching through the land and some very dubious “Wood Fuels” made their way in to stoves and boilers.
During this time a great deal of damage was done to the reputation of wood fuel industry.
It is important moving forward that we base the growth of the wood fuel sector firmly on quality – this is what WFQA is all about. Our plan is to make our bright flame logo something that customers will increasingly look for when buying wood pellets, wood chip, wood briquettes or indeed firewood.
In 2011 the firewood market alone was worth over €30 million euro to our economy.
In January 2009, a voluntary working group was assembled to produce a quality assurance scheme for wood fuels. The group consisted of industry and consumer representatives and delegates from public bodies and associations such at WIT; SEAI; IrBEA; Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and NSAI
Over two years we met, we worked, considered, discarded, argued and agreed! My role in the working group was to represent the consumer, the end-user of wood fuels. I got to know some great people, had the opportunity to work with some amazing minds, and the working group finally produced National Workshop Agreement (NWA4) Agreement, the fourth such agreement in place in this country.
The agreement forms the basis of a quality assurance scheme for wood fuels, using very strict criteria to ensure that wood fuel that carries the WFQA and NSAI labels are
- Carbon Neutral
- Sourced from Sustainably Managed Forests
- Compliant with relevant Irish and EU standards
- Independently tested and certified in Ireland.
So what happens in this process?
There are various Irish and European standards in place for Wood Pellet, Wood Chip, Wood Briquettes, and indeed Firewood.
These standards mean little to the end user, who just wants to know that the wood fuel they are purchasing is suitable for the heating appliance.
The WFQA doesn’t set the standard that the fuels ascribe to, but rather test the fuel on a random basis to ensure that whatever standard the producer claims to have, is in fact correct. In other words: “That it does what it says on the tin!”
The fuel is collected from site, as per European Testing Standards, and tested in a state of the art test and research facility for wood fuels in Waterford Institute of Technology.
In the meantime the quality processes of the company are audited by NSAI inspectors. This includes tax, insurance and safety compliance, felling licences, chain of custody documentation, delivery and storage procedures etc. to name but a few.
When all of this is in place the NSAI certifies the company to carry both the WFQA and the NSAI labels on their packaging and documentation.
It is quite a robust process, and reflects very positively on companies attaining certification under the scheme.
There are now 6 companies certified under the scheme, with several more in the pipeline, who will complete the certification process over the coming months.
Full details of the scheme are available at http://www.wfqa.org
So what’s next for the WFQA? The scheme is now known throughout the industry. It’s now the turn of you, the reader, the consumer, the end user to look for the label.
Ask your wood fuel retailer if they stock WFQA fuels. Ask your wood fuel supplier if they are certified by WFQA? Ask why not?
You deserve to have quality assured wood fuel to heat your home.