Cost benefits for Laser scanned softwood plantations
Operational deployment of LiDAR derived information into softwood resource systems
Assessing and measuring the growth of plantations is vital if growers are to get the best from the investment in their trees. Previous FWPA research has identified that using aircraft mounted, laser scanning equipment (LiDAR) is an effective way to manage estates; however, incorporating the LiDAR sourced information into plantation management production systems is an opportunity for further efficiencies.
This FWPA-funded research has expanded on previous findings into LiDAR use in softwood plantations and has developed analytical and software solutions that enable plantation management companies to integrate LiDAR-derived information into their yield regulation systems.
The research demonstrated that imputation models are able to predict many commercially valuable parameters, appear robust and produce predictions that make sense. Since models are central in a model-based inventory system this provides confidence that a LiDAR based inventory system will be able to match the accuracy of conventional systems.
The research project’s objective was not to produce commercial software but rather to make available accessible data flow processes that can interface with existing software infrastructure. As plantation management companies have different operation systems and practices, a modular approach was taken whereby each module could either stand alone or be integrated with the other modules.
Three project modules that use LiDAR data were developed to:
- optimise the automatic detection of tree crowns so as to simplify accurate tree count estimates
- implement efficient sampling design strategies so as to reduce the sampling intensity of inventory plots
- deliver a data workflow prototype that can estimate volume and product yield.
The research also conducted a cost-benefit analysis of the feasibility of deploying LiDAR-derived information into yield regulation systems.
Using South Australian softwood plantations, the study found that the costs for LiDAR based inventory surveys ranged from $9.28–$12.00 per hectare (survey every three years) to $11.65–$15.46 per hectare for (two-yearly survey) to $16.11–$22.29 for an annual survey. In comparison, a conventional inventory survey costs $17.75 per hectare. The conclusion is that biennial and triennial LiDAR surveys are clearly cost effective and provide greater flexibility and efficiencies for management production systems.
Additional benefits such as safety issues associated with on-ground inventory systems and rapid data collection times also make LiDAR an attractive alternative management tool.