Benefits spanning the supply chain — predicting and controlling wood quality in standing trees
Forest growers can now easily and affordably assess wood quality across their resource, while also making decisions around location and management that will best serve the quality of their stands going forward.
Scientists behind a new research project say the ability to predict, maintain and improve timber quality in plantations will help decrease risk and improve the productivity, competitiveness and profitability of Australia’s growers and processors.
Using small-diameter drill technology known as IML-RESI, researchers captured details of wood variability and quality in trees. It’s a quick and cost effective process. For just a couple of dollars, trees can be sampled within one minute. The recorded data (or, ‘traces’) are then uploaded to a specially developed online wood-quality assessment platform, processed, and interpreted to assess the average density and stiffness of trees at the site.
Dr Geoff Downes, of Forest Quality, which led the FWPA-supported research, explained that growers have historically sold logs to processers on the basis of volume, not quality. However, this is starting to change, now that quality indicators can be measured at low cost.
“Being able to measure wood quality in standing trees at a particular site, cost-effectively and with minimal effort, means growers get a better understanding of the properties of processed timber, which determines price,” Downes said.
“Industry feedback so far has been incredibly positive. This project has 12 industry partners, including growers and processors, many of whom are now assessing their own resources using this technology. Communication between growers and processors helps them understand how the standing tree properties will relate to the products that ultimately come out of the sawmill.”
The technology also has advantages when it comes to aiding grower decision making about which sites and silvicultural practices (relating to the establishment, growth, composition, health and quality of trees) will impact the stiffness and volume of their timber. This knowledge will allow growers to plan for improved wood quality in their stands, meaning increased value for processors.
Alongside the IML-RESI technology and online platform, the researchers have also developed the eCambium tool, in the hopes it will provide additional advancements in future.
The tool runs on a web platform that allows growers to upload information around planting, harvesting, silviculture, latitude and longitude, before automatically collecting location-specific weather and soil data and using it to predict wood growth and characteristics at that site. Aside from allowing growers to assess their resource remotely, the tool demonstrates how varying silvicultural practices might impact tree quality.
“The eCambium tool is still very much under development, but combining it with IML-RESI will be the next stage,” Downes said. “Ultimately, we hope growers find commercial value in running scenarios using eCambium to assess resource variability, before using IML-RESI to test and validate the results.”