In mid-November Forsilvitech attended the ForestTECH conference which was offered both physically and virtually. The conference predominantly focuses on New Zealand and Australia’s forest issues, however, the content is globally relevant. This year, day one of the conference focused on forest establishment, mechanised planting and silviculture. We will use this opportunity to give a summary of the main technologies discussed and reflect on opportunities for the future.
A look at the past and future
In terms of progress in silviculture mechanisation over the past 50 years, it was indicated that even though there were innovations over the years (1970s – 1990s in Scandinavia) some innovation such as complete planting machines lacked further development and adoption. Some innovations in improving silviculture included the development of more ergonomic planting tubes as well the use of planting augers and pruning pole saws. In terms of current and future developments, the use of robotics, drones (apply chemicals and fertilizers) as well as the integration of autonomous machines were identified key areas of future growth.
Mechanised planting technologies
Some lessons on the mechanised planting trials with the M-Planter were provided. The unique excavator-based unit mounted with a ripping and mounding head was shown and initial results indicated that the system could be applied successfully on various sites in New Zealand. Additional results obtained from the use of a Komatsu excavator mounted with a Risutec ASP-150 planting head on burnt and unburnt sites were also presented. Despite technical challenges, the results indicated good cultivation and productivities of between 110 – 155 plants per hour (daytime) and 90 – 110 plant per hour (night-time) with the possibility of significant improvements (>200 plants per hour) with an experienced operator. The various products used for mechanised scarification, mounding, trenching and planting systems from Sweden were outlined by Bracke Forest.
Regarding digital technologies, FPT (Forest Pro Technologies) which is a GPS application adapted for the M-planter was described. The system records the tree location and produces a planting grid. Furthermore, data collected is uploaded to the server and made available to the user online on their device (cellphone or tablet). Linking to this topic was information on planting technologies and precision technologies provided by Risutec. ASTA and Task guiding systems were presented as digital reforesting solutions which record the seedling location and document what has been done on a particular site.
Information from DroneSeed showed how drones are being used to effectively reforest large areas post forest site disturbances such as fires. The regulatory challenges were outlined and opportunities for improvement were described by focusing on the modular fleets, precision software and seed vessels provided by DroneSeed. The application of heavy lift drones for delivering seedlings to planters on steep terrain and feedback on trials were drones were used for chemical spraying was provided by Interpine. Interpine also showed how drones were being used to assess tree stocking (remaining stems per ha) in thinned pine stands . Airseed technologies also provided information on environmental restoration through planting seeds from UAVs.
Post planting assessments
The expansion of deep learning technologies was described by Scion where activities such as phenotyping in nursery plants and seedling detection on planted sites was shown. Skylab presented on the use of high precision digital mapping algorithm tools for post planting seedling survival, weed mapping and vitality measurements. Adding to the discussion, SwiftGeoSpatial also gave an overview of their use of ultra-high-resolution satellite imagery for tree counting before canopy closure.
Overall the main drivers of mechanised silviculture that were described by the various presenters were improving safety, overcome labour shortages, improve productivity and cost efficiency, improve quality and need to replant large areas due to fires and other pest and disease impacts. Going into the future, some of the focus areas in New Zealand forestry will be on technologies focused on precision planting mechanisation, mechanised thinning to waste and precision forestry.