Growing confidence in forestry’s future
WHEN SCION LAUNCHED AN AMBITIOUS programme four years ago aimed at doubling the productivity of New Zealand plantation forests by 2050 it all seemed pie-in-the-sky.
After all, the size of the forest estate had been going backwards and no one really knew if it was feasible to double the amount of wood grown in just 36 years without increasing the land – effectively, it meant taking a quantum leap in just a single rotation.
But the programme, launched under the title ‘Growing Confidence in Forestry’s Future’, differed from anything tried before, because it followed a highly integrated approach, pooling all the research resources to maximise results. The idea being that the sum of the whole would be greater than the individual components.
A joint initiative between Scion, forest growers and the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, the programme was based on fostering and establishing new links between various researchers and interested parties to benefit forestry as a whole. And it’s already showing promising results.
The progress made in just four years was outlined by the Scion team at the 2018 Forest Growers Research conference in Tauranga last month.
The programme is based on ‘innovation clusters’ drawn from various groups, with four having been established: Product Quality Improvement cluster, Phenotyping Platform cluster, Productivity Enhancement cluster and Sustainability cluster.
Their goal is to build more productive, resource-efficient forests that provide the raw material base for added-value processing to be achieved through shifting forest management to a ‘precision forestry’ basis by integrating latest advances in sensor technology, tree physiology, genetics, improved management etc.
The approach starts from the breeding programme and includes developing trees that match specific sites and climatic conditions around the country instead of a one-size-fits-all method.
Gains can also be made in how nurseries raise trees from seeds and much research has centred around reducing fungicide, which may harm some beneficial bacteria as well as killing off harmful ones, plus reducing the amount of fertiliser, which will not only save costs but also benefit the environment. Scion is working to develop these ‘recipes’ for nurseries around New Zealand.
Other research is focusing on using satellite and LiDAR technology to predict sites where wind damage is likely, so that forest owners can mitigate these. And as forests grow, the same technology will help identify where fertiliser should be applied to boost growth and to constantly monitor for diseases. New types of fertiliser, such as Biuret (a by-product of nitrogen fertiliser manufacturing) are also being trialled, with good results.
The research may also identify which sites are more profitable for growing structural timber and which ones produce trees better suited to pruning.
Some of the results from the programme are already impacting future forests, with research showing that the optimum stocking level for structural timber trees is 676 stems per hectare, not the 500/ha figure currently used.
The Scion team says the GCFF programme is adding value across the board and the ultimate goal is within grasp.