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Enhancing traditional growth & yield forecasts

30 July 2023

A team of researchers has developed a prototype system that combines remote sensing data and process-based modelling with the traditional method of empirical modelling. The system will help forest managers improve planning and forecasting systems for the optimal maintenance and development of their forest growth and yield.

The team has also developed a series of recommendations for industry to enable individual forestry companies to adopt and fully operationalise this new hybrid approach to modelling within the next five years.

“Australian plantation forest managers face ongoing challenges around maintaining and developing their forest growth and yield planning and forecasting systems,” research leader Dr Philip Smethurst said. Dr Smethurst is a soil and water scientist, and plant nutritionist at CSIRO Land and Water.

Remote sensing and process-based modelling

There are many opportunities (and complexities) associated with new data sources for the prediction of current and future attributes of plantation resources. This data, which will guide forest management practices, can be sourced using the likes of satellite and airborne or ground-based sensors, as well as process-based modelling.

Process-based modelling in this context refers to resource forecast modelling that includes the specific mathematical representation of ecosystem processes that lead to wood production, e.g. the use of light, water and nitrogen.

Traditional empirical modelling that relies on simple statistically-based correlations tends to lose reliability where forecasts are required to consider future conditions not yet felt. While the underlying physiological relationships between CO2, temperature and rainfall in the plant might remain the same, predictions resulting from unexperienced conditions can be quite uncertain when using these traditional models. As climate variables change, so too must growth and model predictions.

Process-based modelling has the advantage of relying on specific representations of biophysical processes that are maintained while new conditions are experienced. It offers a more reliable method of yield prediction under a changing climate.

“Taking full advantages of new opportunities such as process-based modelling and remote sensing technologies often requires specialist skills not always available within forest companies,” Dr Smethurst said. “As a result, many companies rely on a combination of legacy technologies and systems, alongside various modern additions, limiting the potential of their capabilities.”

The research

In 2020, the two-year FWPA-supported project Next Generation Resource Assessment and Forecasting for Australian Plantation Forestry began to help address these concerns.

Note: As part of this year’s ForestTECH 2023 series, Dr Philip Smethurst together with Barrie May will be running a pre-conference workshop for Australian foresters attending the Melbourne conference on the morning of Tuesday 21 November. The workshop is titled: ProFert and APSIM tools for optimising fertiliser use and profitability in plantations

Details on the ForestTECH 2023 workshop programmes can be found here

Access the final report by clicking here

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Source: FWPA

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