Genetics to boost softwood returns
Softwood forest growers are set to benefit from a new two-year research program with the potential to significantly increase wood quality. By improving genetic selection for wood quality factors such as timber stiffness, it could result in increases in returns of hundreds of dollars per hectare. The researchers will exploit emerging tools to measure wood quality non-destructively on young standing trees in radiata and southern pines, and will test tens of thousands of trees across many field trials.
Traditionally, tree genetics programs have been mostly about growth, form and tree health, with only a subset of trees assessed for wood quality properties such as timber stiffness which have been more expensive to test for.
However, the technology for testing wood quality traits on large scale without destroying trees is advancing and becoming more cost-effective.
FWPA has co-funded the Southern Tree Breeding Association and its industry collaborators to test the effectiveness of different wood quality assessment tools, including basic density, acoustic wave speed and resistograph (a tool which can provide quantitative sample data from resistance to a needle-sized drill).
The General Manager of the Southern Tree Breeding Association, Dr Tony McRae, said the commercial impacts of improving wood quality genetics in breeding could be significant if the technology can be applied to young trees on large scale.
He said the timing is right, with a wave of new generation genetic material coming on line.
“Wood quality is a major determinant of economic value in softwood plantations,” he said.
“A one unit (GPa) increase in timber stiffness for radiata pine is estimated to be worth on average almost $570 extra in net present value per hectare to an integrated enterprise growing and processing structural timber.”
The data collected in the research will be incorporated into the industry-wide TREEPLAN evaluations for radiata and southern pines.