Category: R&DWorks Newsletters
Trees on farms to help support healthy diets
It has long been accepted that trees grown on farms bring a myriad of benefits, including better soil health, microclimate regulation, carbon sequestration and improved biodiversity.
However, recent work conducted by a research team based in Denmark has uncovered how tree-based farming might help improve the diets of people living in rural communities as well.
There are around 7,000 different types of plants that are safe for humans to eat, yet the calorie-high and nutrient-low staples maize, rice and wheat account for 50 per cent of the world’s plant-based food intake. This is one of the major factors that contributes to malnutrition remaining a leading cause of poor health globally.
While the positive association between the environment and tree-based farming systems is well documented, tree-based farming systems and their impact on diet in rural populations is less understood.
For that reason, scientists at the University of Copenhagen and the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry decided to look at a number of existing studies around trees on farms, with the objective of developing an improved understanding of the role this practice can play in supporting nutritious diets.
They identified 36 research papers focused on diet quality in low– and middle-income countries among populations practicing tree-based farming. The papers considered tree-based farming’s ability to:
· provide edible products such as fruits, nuts, and leaves
· provide marketable products, where growers could use the money to buy food
· improve agricultural production of other crops through ecosystem services such as increased pollination and microclimate regulation, where growers could either consume or sell the product of the additional harvest.
In looking at the various studies, the team found strong positive associations between tree-based farming systems, household income and improved diet.
More specifically, they observed that trees on farms can offer households additional options to diversify their diets with foods from the farm and market. In addition, benefits for biodiversity were found to increase the availability of micronutrient-rich food found in the wild, while the cultivation of multiple tree species can help ensure households enjoy year-round surety of access to nutritious food, even where climatic or economic conditions vary.
While these clear positive associations were found among the body of evidence available, the team also became aware of the complexity involved with drawing links between tree-based farming systems and quality of diet.
For instance, the types of species and arrangement of trees within different systems could play an important role in optimising the consequent benefits for diet. Meanwhile, external factors including government policy, bioclimatic, geographical and socioeconomic aspects, market access and education could also have a significant impact.
The team concluded that further studies of tree-based farming system configurations and classifications, with a distinct consideration of food and an awareness of external impacts, are needed to properly define how tree-based farming systems might best be used to support the diets of rural populations.
Source: Forests News
Re-designing Perth’s skyline with world’s tallest timber building
Perth could soon be welcoming an environmentally friendly addition to its distinctive skyline, with the construction of the tallest hybrid timber tower in the world, which would also be West Australia’s first carbon negative building.
Architecture and design practice Fraser & Partners (a research-focused offshoot of Elenberg Fraser) has teamed up with property developer Grange Development on the design of C6, which is set to stand proudly at 183 metres tall and use 7,400 cubic metres of cross-laminated timber (CLT), glue laminated timber (GLT) and laminated veneer lumber (LVL).
If approved by the local council, the people behind the tower hope the structure will lead the way in the creation of living, breathing buildings that make positive contributions to the built and natural environments, while setting a precedent for future constructions.
“We accepted the challenge to measurably ensure our project would replenish the environment, rather than deprive it,” said Reade Dixon, Fraser & Partners Director.
In demonstrating the sustainable and renewable nature of the building, the team pointed out some impressive key stats, including that all timber required for the build could be regrown from just 580 seeds. Meanwhile, the core structure is forecast to sequester 10,497,600 kg more carbon than a traditional concrete building of a similar size — which roughly equates to the carbon footprint associated with 4,885 economy class flights from Perth to London.
What’s more, the developers see the construction as a massive opportunity for research. Once completed, they intend to share their design and construction processes and learnings publicly, with a view to further hybrid timber building use in Australia and beyond.
Source: Architecture & Design
A natural glue for healthier plywood
Scientists in China have developed a natural, non-toxic adhesive for potential use in the creation of composite wood products found in our furniture, décor, and flooring.
Flexible plywood panels are produced by gluing thin layers of wood together and curing them under high pressures and temperatures. The glues used in this process have historically been chosen for their ability to bond strongly with wood but tend to contain formaldehyde. Their use has raised concerns about harmful emissions being released into the air.
Past research has demonstrated how a glucose and citric acid solution can effectively act as a strong, natural, water-resistant wood glue. However, it was previously thought a zinc chloride catalyst was necessary to reduce energy consumption during the curing process, which in turn weakens the adhesive effects.
PhD student Hong Lei of Southwest Forestry University in Kunming was part of a team of researchers that set out to discover whether glucose and citric acid alone could produce a strong adhesive while delivering a more energy efficient curing process.
The team created solutions of glucose with varying amounts of citric acid, before applying them to poplar veneers to produce plywood sheets. Tested at a temperature of 392 °F and under pressures greater than 101 psi, all the plywood samples only broke along the wood fibers and not at the glued seams, satisfying the standard requirements for plywood in China.
Based on their findings, the research team is hopeful that citric acid and glucose adhesives could become commonplace in the production of plywood in the future, yielding benefits for health and the environment.
Fortifying CLT walls for earthquake-proof buildings
Wood has similar strength to concrete, yet one fifth of the weight, meaning timber buildings naturally have much lower earthquake loads. A novel approach to the way cross-laminated timber (CLT) is used in low-rise construction could significantly reduce earthquake risk.
Aotearoa New Zealand’s Earthquake Commission provided NZ$75,000 to fund a two-year research program at the University of Canterbury, during which multi-storey CLT walls were tested under conditions mirroring those associated with an earthquake scenario, to observe their behaviours.
“With the right connections, CLT buildings can be really strong and resilient in an earthquake,” said Associate Professor Minghao Li, an expert in seismic activity, who led the research.
Li and his team created high-capacity wall connections containing steel dowels designed to help timber walls resist the force of an earthquake and protect their integrity. Under testing, the dowels bent to absorb energy, reduced the speed of shaking observed, and prevented timber walls from significant damage or collapse.
“The main benefit is that after an earthquake you can simply repair the connections and the buildings will be just as strong as they were before,” said PhD student Ben Moerman, who worked with Li on the research.
“We hope our research will convince the building industry to use more timber, which will also benefit our forestry industry,” Li said.
The project is set to conclude at the end of this year. The next step will be for the researchers to share their findings with Aotearoa New Zealand’s engineers and designers with the hope of encouraging the increase of wood in construction.
The sky’s the limit for malleable wood
According to new research conducted by an international team, an innovative, rapid 'water-shock' process can be used to create strong and mouldable wood.
The scientists behind the research say the flexible wood created through this process has enhanced mechanical properties that could make it a candidate for a whole new range of applications, which might even include aerospace!
Previous approaches to instilling timber with the same levels of malleability as metals and plastics have compromised the strength of the material. However, this new process has the potential to improve both strength and malleability, which would make timber a contender for a much broader range of applications.
So, how has this been achieved? The researchers first softened wood by extracting the lignin that binds its cell walls and is responsible for its strength. After closing the wood’s fibers through a process of evaporation, they proceeded to re-swell it by ‘shocking’ it with water.
By moulding the wood into the required shape before it dries, the finished timber product can be created to perfectly suit the spatial requirements of the end user.
"The rapid water-shock process forms a distinct, partially open, wrinkled cell wall structure that provides space for compression, as well as the ability to support high strain, allowing the material to be easily folded and moulded," said Professor Liangbing Hu, Director of the Center of Materials Innovation at the University of Maryland, and lead author of the research report.
"The resulting 3D-moulded wood is six times stronger than the starting wood, and comparable to widely used lightweight materials like aluminum alloys."
The processed wood created using this approach offers such high levels of formability thanks to the capacity of the wrinkled cell wall structure to withstand severe folding without fracture.
"The researchers introduce a clever means to transform the naturally occurring, straight-walled cellular structures of wood into wavy, accordion-like geometries, at the microscale," said co-author Professor John Rogers, of Northwestern University.
"The result is an unusual, high-strength form of wood that is both flexible and mouldable, in ways that open up new applications for this very old class of material."
Access to mouldable wood significantly increases the possibilities for potential use of timber as a sustainable structural material, particularly as industries look to reduce their environmental footprint.
"This out-of-the-box approach to developing advanced wood materials will drive wood product and market innovation as a sustainable solution to replace many unsustainable structural materials and combat climate change," said the USDA Forest Products Lab's JY Zhu, who was also involved in the research.
Co-author Stephen Eichhorn, Professor of Materials and Science Engineering at the University of Bristol, cited a childhood memory of his father building an aeroplane from wood as inspiration for one particularly exciting potential future use.
"He bent the wood to be used in the wings of the plane using steam. To see now that it is possible to make this flexible wood, while also enhancing the mechanical properties, makes this a truly amazing material. And who knows? It could be used as a future material in aerospace!" said Eichhorn.
The research was the result of a collaboration between the University of Maryland’s Center for Materials Innovation, Yale University, The Ohio State University, the University of North Texas, the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service, the University of Bristol, and ETH Zurich.
Collaborative research aims to optimise industry supply chain
A research team at the University of the Sunshine Coast has conducted a range of research projects investigating supply chain optimisation over the past seven years.
Past timber supply chain research projects centred on machine performance and efficiency have helped to identify and deliver positive impacts over relatively short time frames, thanks to insights into equipment modification and work methods.
These projects, conducted collaboratively with industry, have focused on different aspects of the supply chain, from resource and technological assessments to product quality enhancement.
The outcomes of this work have led to enhanced knowledge through testing available sensor and tracing technologies, as well as operation management methods and techniques in a forestry context.
The goal was to support better decision-making by industry stakeholders and deliver optimised solutions that will yield the highest value of recovery from timber resources.
“To remain competitive in a global environment, whole-of-system wood export supply chains must continue to innovate, adapt and adopt emerging processes and technologies,” said Brown.
“Through collaboration, co-investment and continued work with port operators, contractors, timber processors, forest and plantation growers can ensure the lowest-cost operations to help maintain and improve competitiveness and profitability.”
Some of the major projects aimed at enabling supply chain value optimisation conducted over the past seven years are detailed below.
Controlling and managing the moisture content of logs and biomass
The cost of transporting fresh logs and forest biofuel accounts for up to 50 per cent of overall costs. And because approximately half of the weight of logs and biofuel is water, infield drying presents industry with an opportunity to significantly reduce transport costs and increase calorific value, in the case of biofuel. This would enhance cost-competitiveness with alternative materials and imported logs as well as help establish a domestic and export forest biofuel industry.
Between 2016 and 2020, researchers aimed to provide forest managers with the tools to balance reduced transport costs through natural drying against quality specifications, taking into account the increased costs of log storage time, and the impact of wear and tear on processing machinery.
The team found that to extract the gains from infield drying, changes required of industry included:
- moving from payment on delivered green weight to payment on delivered volume or oven-dried weight
- increasing the use of high-capacity trucks, particularly for the transport of dried and infield chipped forest biofuel
- using the drying models and tools developed to guide planning around storage of logs and forest biofuel.
There report can be found on the FWPA website: https://www.fwpa.com.au/resources/reports/processing/1984-control-and-manage-the-moisture-content-of-logs-and-biomass-to-maximise-benefits-along-the-wood-supply-chain-pnc400-1516.html
Improving efficiencies – re-imagining the log and woodchip export supply chain
This project, conducted between 2017 and 2019, took an in-depth look at the various elements of Australia’s log and woodchip export supply chain to find out how it can be most effectively managed.
The team reviewed optimum conditions for storage, haulage and at ports, with the findings used to outline solutions and innovations for an enhanced and more cost-effective timber export process.
Extensive industry consultation was undertaken, with a steering committee with representatives from 12 partner organisations tasked to determine the most important and relevant activities. These activities – which focused on tag, track and trace systems, log moisture content, log loading, and debarking and drying – were then progressed to the research and testing phase.
Off the back of this project, the team developed a suite of recommended methods, models and best-practice approaches, and conducted a series of industry webinars detailing the results.
National Institute for Forest Products Innovation (NIFPI) projects in Tasmania
Researchers at NIFPI conducted a project to provide guidelines and a web-based decision support tool (DSS) that would help industry effectively calibrate harvesting equipment configurations for smaller, more dispersed woodlots.
The team determined that by effectively selecting harvesting equipment and following proper guidelines for use in small woodlots and agroforestry sites, landowner profits could be increased by 10 to 20 per cent.
These economic benefits would also extend to contractors, consultants and forest companies, and potentially also to machinery co-operatives.
A second NIFPI project aimed to help make improvements to practices and equipment to reduce damage to Eucalyptus nitens logs during mechanised harvesting. The effective selection of harvesting equipment and methods to avoid saw- and veneer-log damage during mechanised harvesting was found to have the potential to increase profits by $5 to $10 per m3, industry-wide.
A third project conducted by NIFPI set out to determine whether the additional value and volume recovery achieved by increasing the number of short logs harvested from hardwood plantation forests would outweigh the associated additional supply chain costs.
It was discovered that an annual $5 million improvement in profitability for Tasmanian landowners was potentially achievable, with data collected throughout the project made available to landowners.
Advanced real-time measurements during harvest to increase value recovery
Between 2018 and 2020, the team prepared reports on research around advanced real-time measurements during harvest to increase value recovery.
The reports provided a review of current and emerging technologies, practices and data analytics associated with the measurement of tree characteristics by harvesting equipment.
According to a review of available literature, the accuracy of harvester head diameter measurements can be influenced by bark presence or absence, bark thickness, knots and bumps, feed roller teeth type, and pressure.
To overcome these issues, calibration of the harvester head was identified as a means of removing or reducing measurement errors, while laser scanning and computer vision technologies were found to be useful for rapidly obtaining stem curvature measurements on standing trees, as well as knot location and size on manually processed logs.
The team also found great potential for near infrared spectrometer (NIR) and acoustic instruments to provide reliable performance data for logs produced using harvesters and processors.
It was concluded that harvester data is useful for managing harvest operations, studying environmental impacts, assessing machine performance, and determining spatial variations in site productivity, all with a view to supporting smart decision-making.
The reports also included a case study that explored the potential use of harvester head data in the monitoring and reconciliation of value and volume recovery in a plantation stand. Geo-referenced harvester data was collected on 27,035 stems and 103,956 logs from a radiata pine compartment.
Through the development of this case study, it was successfully demonstrated that harvester data can be used to monitor and reconcile value and volume recovery. By more efficiently using harvester head data, forest managers can better hold contractors accountable for suboptimal practices, refine estimated harvest unit volumes for future planning, and more accurately correlate stand conditions with variables that affect value recovery.
Supply chain value optimisation program
Starting in 2020, the University of the Sunshine Coast research team commenced two new projects with the aim of testing the latest suitable sensing technologies to identify a solution for highest value recovery. The aim of this work, which comprises two sub-projects, is to develop an understanding of what solutions can most effectively be used by industry to support real-time decision-making.
- Impacts of stand location and log position within Pinus radiata trees on return-to-log (RTL) values
The researchers set out to develop background knowledge on whether the inclusion of internal (alongside external) Pinus radiata log characteristics in support of log segregation decisions might allow industry to recover greater value from the existing resource through more appropriate allocation of logs to processors.
The researchers wanted to discover the potential value associated with being able to better identify high value, high strength, and high-density logs in real time at harvest. Initial trials explored low-cost familiar sensors to support real time measurements of quality and reliability. This led to field trials of more sophisticated sensors which are now being progressed to operational harvesting trials.
The practice has shown promise in measuring features to predict value, and in creating a stronger technical platform for system automation to reduce costs and deliver better consistency in value and quality. Coupled with track and trace technologies, this can also help ensure the right products are used for the right purposes with minimal repeat measurements required.
- Accuracy and precision of diameters at breast height (DBH) measurements obtained with Apple’s iPad Pro 2020 and 3D modelling software
In Australian plantations, forest inventory data collection activities are usually carried out using various metrics, including DBH measurements. However, traditional inventory fieldwork methods are labour-intensive, time-consuming and prone to error.
Because manual field measurements are still necessary to calibrate and validate models using remote sensing data, various studies have been conducted in the past to investigate approaches to combining terrestrial inventory practices with modern laser sensors for this purpose.
This particular study aims to investigate and provide preliminary results on the accuracy of light detection and ranging (LiDAR) DBH measurements in Eucalyptus nitens stands. Data was obtained using the Apple 2020 iPad Pro and the 3D-modelling Polycam app.
The iPad estimates obtained during the study so far have been compared with manual individual tree measurements. The iPad method has been found to hold great potential for application in the forestry sector and presents a more affordable alternative to terrestrial and handheld laser scanners. However, to fully realise the potential of this technology, the researchers have suggested the iPad’s LiDAR scanner specs must continue to improve.
More than $11m in funding for projects to grow research capacity in Aussie forestry
Australian forestry research is about to get another boost, thanks to the announcement of funding for 10 exciting new projects.
The research will be funded following recommendations made by the Grower Research Advisory Committee (GRAC). It will cover everything from mitigating the risks posed by pests and diseases to improving geospatial accuracy, drought-proofing plantations, genomics and much more!
The 10 successful projects were selected following the submission of proposals submitted from an open call last November. Guided by recommendations of a governance working group made up of GRAC members, the GRAC Executive Committee undertook a robust evaluation of all submissions, with the assistance of a scientific advisory panel, before making its final recommendations to the FWPA Board. These recommendations included that a total investment of $11.2 million be made in support of the 10 successful projects, which were selected based on their potential to best advance the priority topics identified in FWPA’s forestry research investment plans.
The investment plans established a portfolio of research priorities across nine key themes that were considered likely to help realise GRAC’s vision, “to double the value of Australia’s commercial forests by 2040, by fostering an innovation culture in our enterprises, applying world’s best practices, collaborating and investing into research and development as appropriate.”
The committee also worked to ensure chosen projects represented a balance of investment across different forest types and geographical regions.
“We were delighted with the positive response to the open call for submissions, and the effort made to understand the research needs of the growers,” said Jodie Mason, FWPA’s Forest Research Manager.
“A key part of the evaluation process this year was review by a scientific advisory panel made up of two external members and two grower members, all with appropriate research and subject matter expertise.” The panel assessed the scientific merit of each proposal and provided advice to the GRAC Executive Committee.
“We are very pleased with the value added by the panel this year, and FWPA and growers are supportive of using a similar model next time.”
“Investment in these sorts of research projects is crucial, not only for protecting and optimising the Australian forestry resource as it stands today, but also to make sure we are ready to maximise opportunities around the new technologies and innovations that will fortify Australian forestry into the future.”
“I thank all applicants for submitting proposals and advise that we plan to announce a further call for proposals in the coming months.”
The 10 projects selected by the committee for investment are:
Forest Pest Management (FPM) Research Consortium
The University of the Sunshine Coast will oversee the continuation of a current program of forestry-specific research to control weeds and pests.
Collaboration between chemical manufacturers, forest growers and other relevant stakeholders will support everything from initial field trials right through to facilitating label registration of pesticides, outreach and extension. As a result of this project, advice and representation will also be provided to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority and state-based regulators.
Managing Teratosphaeria through resistance breeding
Gondwana Genomics will undertake a project that aims to use genomics to improve the tolerance of eucalyptus plantations to Teratosphaeria leaf disease by developing disease marker panels to be used in operational breeding programs.
Microbiome management: leveraging advances in microbiome research to deliver cost-effective tools to boost resilience and productivity of pines throughout their production lifecycle
A team at Western Sydney University will work to identify the mycorrhizal fungi most beneficial to young pine plants. They will develop tailored microbial inoculants and identify optimal fertiliser and fungicide for use in nurseries to improve seedling health and in-field survival.
Forest supply chain value optimisation
A six-month extension of existing research at the University of the Sunshine Coast will be funded, with activities designed to enable an external review and consideration of future work in the area of supply chain optimisation.
Geospatial positioning and fusion: is real-time sub-metre accuracy operationally feasible in forestry environments?
Led by the University of South Australia, this project will aim to evaluate options, offer guidance, and develop tools, standards and guidelines to help achieve the required accuracy of positioning, spatial processing, and data fusion outcomes for operational forest use.
Enhancing biological control of invasive eucalyptus weevils in Australia’s eucalypt plantations
Building on previous work, researchers at the University of the Sunshine Coast will identify host-matched, efficacious parasitoid wasp populations in the Green Triangle. Those wasps will then be released in Western Australia to help improve biological control of eucalyptus weevils in Eucalyptus globulus plantations.
Increased and sustained productivity gains in national tree improvement programs for softwood and hardwood plantations
Tree Breeding Australia will scale up its phenotyping, genotyping and tree breeding activities with the strategic goal of doubling the rate of genetic gain and bringing forward productivity increases specifically in pines and eucalypts.
Using genomics to double the rate of genetic gain in Australian forest tree improvement programs
In support of the goal of doubling the rate of genetic gain in Pinus radiata, Eucalyptus globulus, E. nitens and southern pines, Tree Breeding Australia will explore opportunities for the adoption of genomic data to enable early parent selection to reduce generation interval and increase breeding value accuracy.
Drought proofing our plantation estate — improved methods to efficiently manage water stress and productivity in a drying climate
This University of Melbourne project aims to improve the industry’s ability to manage the productivity and survival of Pinus radiata plantations in a changing climate. It will quantify interactions between spatially varying water stores, stand water use/water stress, nutrition and growth dynamics through plots of variable stocking, fertiliser rates and available water.
Enhancing the knowledge base for hardwood plantation management
McGrath Forestry Services will gather, collate and synthesise existing, emerging and under-utilised research and modelled data to improve hardwood silvicultural knowledge in slash management, fertiliser response across whole-of rotation, planting density and stocking, coppice (grown from tree cutting) and seedling establishment, and weed control effects. The work will result in a new database and further calibration of the ProFert model — a fertiliser tool for plantations in southern Australia.
Australian tree breeding research revolutionising the industry
Over the past 20 years, significant research strides have been made around tree breeding in Australia.
Tree breeding is a unique science. Decisions need to be made well ahead of time, to account for the long crop cycles of our softwood and hardwood plantations.
These timeframes (up to 35 years for pine trees, and up to 18 years for eucalypts) mean the future is often uncertain, and the risk is heightened. The ability to make accurate predictions around potential growth and quality is even more critical in forestry than other primary industries, where breeding is generally a much quicker process.
“A big difference between trees and annual crops such as wheat is that we can’t respond immediately,” said Dr Tony McRae, General Manager at Tree Breeding Australia.
“If you want to test a crop variety you can conduct a trial and have the results within a year. This is not the case with trees, so we’ve had to be super creative and innovative in our approach to testing and making predictions.”
Tree breeding history, in brief
In Australia, the growth of plantation species has been supported by advanced generation tree improvement programs, with pine programs starting in the 1950s, and eucalypt programs beginning in the 1970s. Since then, plantation tree breeders have focused on breeding and selecting material that is superior to previous generations.
Over the years, privatisation, consolidation of ownership, advances in technology, and a willingness to collaborate amongst industry have resulted in continued improvements in yield and quality, which means better returns for growers, sawmillers, supply chain participants and investors.
Challenges for the industry to overcome
Despite the genetic improvement already achieved, support for the adoption of ‘next generation’ breeding technologies is needed as the industry faces challenges now and into the future.
Current research activities are addressing the breeding of genetic material to be more resilient to predicted climates and biosecurity threats forecast to be exacerbated by climate change.
Support for succession planning has also been identified as a priority for investment to engage and retain research talent within the sector.
Tree Breeding Australia (TBA)
TBA is a consortium of forest owners and managers, seed and plant propagators, and research organisations. It manages Australia’s national cooperative tree improvement programs. In addition to conducting its own breeding programs, TBA’s work supports the breeding programs of companies by providing access to online systems for data management and genetic evaluation.
TBA is a not-for-profit organisation funded by membership fees, royalties, grants, and fees for services. Founded in South Australia in 1983 (and originally named the Southern Tree Breeding Association), TBA was initially focused on breeding and producing radiata pine seed, before it divested of seed production in 2001 to focus solely on breeding pines and eucalypts.
“The start of the modern era of tree breeding innovation in Australia was largely driven by the formation of TBA, which saw the consolidation of many individual programs in this space around Australia,” said Dr Josquin Tibbits, Research Leader, Plant Functional Genomics at Agriculture Victoria.
“TBA was created to consolidate and share resources, in order to reduce the risk carried by organisations conducting programs in siloes, as well as to reduce research costs and boost gains.”
Tree breeding programs conducted under TBA have largely been guided by economic and environmental objectives, and programs are well supported by collaborating scientists from various research agencies. This encourages innovation and ensures research outputs are rapidly adopted by industry.
“FWPA has played a key role in enabling collaborative research programs, both domestically and internationally, that are driving genetic gain,” said McRae.
“By coming together, we can all learn from each other, and generate a lot more meaningful data for the entire industry to enjoy. A cooperative research model is particularly vital in an industry like forestry, where lag times involved are so long.”
The adoption of Best Linear Unbiased Prediction (BLUP) technology
One of the first big innovations under TBA came in the 1990s, with the adoption of BLUP technology for modelling data. This provided industry with access to much more accurate estimates of breeding value.
“Although this meant the industry had a wealth of valuable data and insights at its disposal, this was all disconnected and difficult to access. The adoption of BLUP technology would allow industry to access all available data, at any time, to estimate genetic worth.
“To facilitate the adoption of BLUP, TBA launched a national online DATAPLAN database in 2001 to house data and pedigree information for hundreds of field trials established over decades of breeding. The database system was fully integrated with other critical software for analysing the data (TREEPLAN) and tools for managing the breeding and deployment populations (SEEDPLAN).
“This platform essentially put the industry at the cutting-edge of machine learning, long before the term was even coined!”
“The national database was effectively designed to easily produce accurate breeding values for industry as new data was generated,” added McRae.
“The focus of the industry wide databases is to identify the best parent trees in the population, and BLUP technology has enabled solid predictions of parental breeding values, taking into consideration variables across different regions and seasons.”
The rolling front
Another major innovation spearheaded by TBA came in the mid-90s, with the shift to ‘rolling front’ breeding, where overlapping operations of breeding and testing could occur at any time.
“Prior to rolling front, breeders would conduct distinct generational breeding,” explained Tibbits.
“Due to the long timeframes involved, this would mean crossing and establishing trials, waiting for the material planted in trials to grow, then measuring and making selections, before repeating the process again based on the results.”
This made for a very slow process and meant huge ebbs and flows of activity over time. Consequently, it was difficult for many organisations to justify investment in expensive scientists during the quieter in-between periods.
“With ‘rolling front’, the process is completely different. It essentially means that every year scientists make crosses, establish trials, take measurements and identify selections, with various materials at different stages in the growth cycle,” continued Tibbits.
To capture the benefits of a rolling front, implementing BLUP technology in TREEPLAN was critical. It enabled TBA to combine data and information across space (programs, site types and regions) and time (years, age classes and generations).
“This has had an enormous impact on the efficiency of breeding programs and the rate of genetic gain. It has meant there is always new data for growers to take advantage of and apply it to their decision-making and has provided a more continuous delivery of quality germplasm (genetic material) to the industry. As a knock-on effect, the workforce has become more stable and consistent.”
“Rolling front has been critical because it enables us to bring forward decision making,” added McRae.
“It allows us to roll out more substantial programs using limited resources. It means our scientists can be busy all year round, so there’s also a significant impact on efficiencies that can’t be overstated.”
Developing and sharing tools and systems
In recent years there has also been a big investment by industry and FWPA in the development of systems and tools made specifically for tree breeding.
“These systems and tools enable the industry to exploit data and confidently make the genetic selections they know will get maximum value from their plantations,” said Tibbits.
The ability of growers to select the best germplasm for their plantations supports decisions toward enhanced economic outcomes, thanks to economic models that predict demand in different markets. Access to these predictions has huge implications on profitability, competitiveness, and investment, by allowing foresters to grow wood with particular properties to meet expected future demand.
Tree and timber quality
One significant example of the systems and tools developed in Australian tree breeding is TREEPLAN – a leading analytical system for genetic evaluation, which was launched in 2001 as the result of sustained and strong collaboration among Australian tree breeders.
Decades worth of data underpins the evaluations made using this tool, which was developed to help Australian growers select suitable plantation radiata pine and eucalypt trees based on attributes associated with their pedigree. This ultimately increases the profitability of the whole industry, while also promoting ongoing improvements to the Australian softwood and hardwood resource.
The tools have continued to evolve over time, and the data itself recently underwent a thorough reliability check, to help ensure grower decisions are made based on the most accurate information possible.
Until recently, TREEPLAN only combined tree pedigree and phenotypic (observable) data collected in-field to generate breeding values used by growers during tree selection.
Now, by combining this information with genomic data, the tool generates ‘single-step’ genetic evaluations, offering a single set of objectively comparable breeding values. These values can strengthen the accuracy of predictions and improve the selection process.
“We can also measure timber attributes more effectively now, thanks to the advent of tools such as IML-RESI, and acoustic wave velocity,” said McRae.
“This technology uses small-diameter drills to quickly, accurately and cost effectively capture details of a tree’s diameter, wood variability and quality. Having access to this type of data on standing trees is important to inform decision making that will help increase genetic gain for timber stiffness and strength.”
A changing climate
Climate change is likely to have a significant impact on the Australian forestry industry in the future. Changing conditions bring both new threats and new opportunities.
The projected long-term impact of climate change and demand on the forestry industry, together with urban expansion, has the potential to force the future establishment of plantations in environments where the current plantation species will need to be adapted to cope with variable site conditions.
A current focus of TBA is the pre-emptive testing of material across a range of environments likely to reflect future climates and industry expansion.
“We need to make sure we are prepared for a changing climate by identifying genetic material that we know is adapted to potential future conditions,” said McRae.
“For that reason, we are testing our genetic materials at atypical sites, so we know what will survive and grow as the climate changes. With changing conditions, there will also be new pests and diseases to contend with in the future, so testing offshore is an important aspect of building knowledge that will be beneficial in the future.”
Meanwhile, the ability to bring DNA information into breeding is also becoming increasingly commonplace.
“Use of genomics has the capability to rapidly increase the rate of genetic gain. Encouragingly, the application of genomics in Australian forestry is well ahead of other countries, largely thanks to the adoption of rolling front, which allows us to seamlessly implement innovations that would otherwise disrupt the much lengthier timelines associated with traditional breeding programs,” said Tibbits.
“Investments in this area will afford Australia a global advantage by giving the national forest estate a head-start against international competitors. In the next ten years, genomics could help place the Australian estate two to three generations ahead of where we might otherwise have been.”
“Genomics adds another valuable tool to our breeding toolkit and will help add value to the ongoing evolution of tree breeding in Australia, making it an area of significant investment moving forward,” added McRae.
“To make these new technologies operational, industry must continue to collaborate across species and at a national level.”
Dr McRae said it is important to proof the breeding values and the predicted gains based on these technologies. “It’s very encouraging to see that realised genetic gain is consistently being demonstrated in many large plot trials for the main plantation species.
“This means tree breeding is working effectively and delivering gains largely consistent with expectations. Industry and growers can depend on future productivity improvements through the adoption of improved genetics, which compounds the benefits of new investments in genetics as they build on previous gains.
“We are looking to more than double the current annual rate of genetic gain to more than one per cent improvement in productivity (from 2.5 to 5 m3 per hectare per annum over a full rotation for pines). This means that potential productivity per hectare can improve more than 10 per cent over the next decade without compromising wood quality – equivalent to more than 17 million m3 of softwood forest resource or 8 million m3 of eucalypt fibre available for future harvests.
“We have seen significant lifts in productivity over previous rotations through tree breeding and improved silviculture impacting on harvest volumes. FWPA and industry are investing in new initiatives that will deliver these productivity improvements in future rotations.”
How small trees and woody biomass could limit carbon emissions and curb wildfire
New research out of the University of California (UC) Berkley outlines how creating a market for smaller diameter trees and other forest biomass could support forest managers to reduce wildfire risk without generating extra carbon emissions.
Clearing the state’s forests of dense overgrowth is crucial to mitigating the risk of catastrophic wildfires. However, this approach has typically used prescribed burning — a technique that releases stored carbon back into the atmosphere and reduces the ability of forests to alleviate the effects of climate change.
Scientists behind the research believe if a market for small diameter trees and biomass was created by encouraging the use of innovative timber products with long lifespans, there could be a consequent economic incentive for forest management to pursue thinning without burning.
The study’s first author, Bodie Cabiyo, a PhD candidate in UC Berkeley's Energy and Resources Group, noted that difficulties currently exist around effectively managing California’s forests without releasing carbon.
"But if we're really efficient and careful about how we are using the wood and invest in innovative wood products that can use waste wood, we can achieve both net carbon and wildfire mitigation benefits,” said Cabiyo.
California has made a commitment to achieving full carbon neutrality by 2045, mainly by reducing emissions and investing in carbon sinks, such as forests. Conversely, in conjunction with the US Forest Service, two years later the state also committed to the prescribed burning and thinning of one million acres of forest.
"A lot of people are pointing towards forests as a source of sucking carbon out of the air and not adding carbon to the atmosphere," Cabiyo said.
"If you drive through these forest treatment projects, you'll see massive burn piles that can be over 20 feet tall — the size of multiple school busses — and they're just sitting there waiting to be combusted. That's a lot of carbon that is going to go back into the atmosphere.”
Smaller trees and underbrush residues produced through forest thinning are currently considered to have little market value in California, particularly in comparison to larger trees that can be harvested and sold to sawmills.
However, small trees and woody residues don’t have to end up as redundant waste that needs to be burned. For example, in other parts of the world engineered lumber is produced by mixing these residues with adhesives, before compressing them into large sheets. These sheets are strong enough to be used in construction. In fact, many existing Californian houses were built using imported engineered wood.
In addition, biofuel plants can convert biomass into electricity or liquid fuel. If equipped with carbon capture technology, these plants can produce this energy while still removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
"While the goal to manage a million acres per year is fantastic and absolutely necessary, the reality is that a million acres per year will cost a lot of money to manage, and it's still unclear where that money is going to come from," said Cabiyo.
The analysis demonstrates how the right set of state-directed policies and incentives focused on the increased use of innovative wood products could result in private landowners generating the funds necessary to expand forest thinning without the need for prescribed burning, and so limiting carbon emissions and wildfire risk.
Senior author Daniel Sanchez, an assistant cooperative extension specialist in UC Berkeley's Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, said the research team hopes its study will help align these two goals, while also providing a framework for managing temperate forests across the world to meet the needs of a changing climate.
"When it comes to carbon storage or sequestration, some people focus only on what's in the forest," Sanchez said.
"We wanted to assess the carbon emissions associated with the whole lifecycle of these new products."
The researchers calculated carbon emissions under a hypothetical scenario involving a state-created market for wood residues. This was achieved by analysing emissions and carbon capture associated with a timber product from the moment the wood is harvested to the end of the product's life. Alongside this, they calculated future carbon emissions under a business-as-usual scenario.
This analysis suggested that by investing in and incentivising industries that create innovative wood products or convert biomass into biofuels using carbon capture technology, a state-supported market for wood residues that would help avoid the need for burning and the generation of significant carbon emissions was preferable.
"If California starts doing thinning treatments at a large scale, then we're going to be producing a lot more lumber and wood residues, and where that material goes is a question," Cabiyo said.
"We found that using that new material for building affordable housing could produce massive carbon benefits, largely because those buildings otherwise would be built with steel and cement, which have significant carbon emissions associated with them."
This research was published in full in the journal The proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
World-first book considers the benefits of ‘climate smart forestry’
Maximising the forest bioeconomy to support forestry’s vital role in mitigating and adapting to climate change can best be achieved by using ‘climate smart’ forestry tailored to local conditions, according to new research
A forthcoming book titled Forest bioeconomy and climate change is the first ever science-based book on the subject.
Almost 30 European researchers collaborated on its development, considering how the forest bioeconomy can support efforts to overcome the climate crisis in the most sustainable way.
Reduced dependence on fossil fuels will play a key role
Phasing out the use of fossil-based products such as coal, oil and natural gas is central to the fight against climate change, particularly when you consider they are responsible for 75 to 90 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Contributor Lauri Hetemäki, Professor of Practice at the University of Helsinki and Senior Researcher at the European Forest Institute, argued it is essential we use of forest-based bioproducts as an alternative to fossil fuels, and new innovations in the forest bioeconomy are needed to improve resource efficiency and the recyclability of existing bio-based products.
According to contributor Professor Heli Peltola, Director of the FORBIO project at the University of Eastern Finland, forests must also be managed so they can adapt to the changing climate.
Climate smart forestry is the future
Ensuring the synergies between climate change mitigation efforts and the forestry sector are maximised requires a holistic approach, according to contributor Professor Jyrki Kangas, Deputy Director of the FORBIO project at the University of Eastern Finland.
The book outlines the concept of climate smart forestry as a best practice approach aimed at ensuring the forestry sector is an integral part of the fight against climate change. The approach has three main objectives:
- reducing greenhouse gas emissions
- enabling forests to survive and thrive under changing climate conditions
- maximising the economic benefits of the forestry industry.
Approaches to achieving climate-smart forestry objectives should be tailored based on the conditions of forests in different countries and regions.
In addition, strategies should be designed to be adjusted as the impacts of climate change progress, and disturbances caused by extreme weather events like droughts, storms and forest fires increase.
The importance of promoting the additional benefits of forestry
There is a broad consensus amongst scientists that increasing forest resilience — by planting more mixed forests than monocultural forests and using tree species best suited to habitat — will improve the ability of forests to adapt to suit the conditions of a changing climate, reduce the adverse impacts on the resource, and help prepare the forestry sector for the future.
Tax expenditures alone are unlikely to meet the financial requirements necessary for large-scale forest adaptations, meaning investment from forest owners and the forestry industry is essential.
For that reason, communicating the additional benefits of forestry within and beyond the forestry sector will play an important role in boosting the willingness of forest managers and the broader community to support new forest management measures.
When planning climate-smart approaches, timber production capabilities, economic benefits, employment opportunities and biodiversity objectives should all be considered. Essentially, to be effective, climate smart forest management practices need to take into account socio-economic and ecosystem contexts as well as climate change.
Forest bioeconomy and climate change is based on the FORBIO project (2015–2021), funded by the Strategic Research Council of the Academy of Finland, and coordinated by the University of Eastern Finland in partnership with the European Forest Institute, Finnish Meteorological Institute, Natural Resources Institute Finland, and Finnish Environment Institute.
While the book is not due for publication by Springer until later in 2022, a pre-published manuscript is freely available now via ResearchGate.