Australia: New tree growing technology

Wednesday 14 Aug 2019

New technology to grow money on trees - In Australia, researchers at the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) have developed new technology and methodologies for Australian growers to better value their product and enable primary processing mills to more efficiently align timber to end-product specifications.

DAF’s specialist team has developed a patented wood-borer, combined with the use of ultrasonic technology and mathematical techniques to accurately predict the quality of individual logs and boards from measurements obtained from standing trees in southern pine plantations. As the main softwood produced in the state, southern pine is valued at $438 million and supports 1,670 jobs in rural and regional communities across Queensland.

According to a DAF senior scientist, Dr Chandan Kumar, significant variation of timber quality exists between growing locations, trees and within individual trees and that has made predictions challenging in the past.

“While existing technologies can predict the quality of trees and logs with varying degrees of accuracy, and to segregate high or low range logs, to date they have been unable to predict the value of individual boards from the same tree,” Dr Kumar said.

Dr Kumar said that the development of the new technology will allow primary processors to know the quality and value of logs they are receiving. “This will provide big gains to mills, allowing them to match timber received from growers to end-product specification requirements, thereby maximising the value recovered.

“It will allow mills to adjust sawing patterns and reduce the risk of sawing logs from plots not producing suitable products,” he said.

Former Forest Product Innovation team leader Dr Henri Bailleres added that growers will be able to accurately predict from standing trees when plots will start producing high value wood.

“This enables important interventions at grower level, such as pre-allocation of timber products to better match primary processors needs. It allows growers to identify plots that will never produce high value products so these can be diverted to an appropriate facility and the site replanted to produce higher value products. Conversely, plots producing high value products early can be harvested at a younger age resulting in increased rotations from the same piece of land,” Dr Baileres said.

According to the project report, further investment in the technology will allow for development of a cost-effective and user friendly tool that can be customised to end-user specific requirements, enabling the industry to continue down the path towards ‘Precision Forestry’ by using innovation to improve the value chain and profitability.

This research was part of a collaborative research project between DAF, University of the Sunshine Coast and Queensland University of Technology.

The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries supports Australia’s pre-eminent multidisciplinary forest and timber research team at the Horticulture and Forestry Science Unit’s Brisbane facility at Salisbury.

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