In the lead up to ForestTECH 2020, most within the industry would have thought that it would have been a very hard (in fact, nigh near impossible) task to get forestry resource and tree crop managers together from across Australasia at any physical event.
Despite COVID-19, country border restrictions, tight health and safety requirements for running physical events and a minor scare in Auckland the week before the event ran, we did it. ForestTECH 2020 ran in Rotorua, New Zealand on 18-19 November 2020.
To meet and talk with foresters as part of the ForestTECH 2020 event has been a learning and networking experience for many of our ForestTECH community.
From discussions with this years’ delegates in New Zealand, it’s also been a much-needed tonic for a year that’s hit everyone with repeated COVID-19 lockdown’s and restrictions. In fact, the last physical event run for forestry and wood products companies was 12 months ago, ForestTECH 2019 that ran in both New Zealand and Australia. It was long over-due.
Well over 300 establishment foresters, tree crop supervisors and planners, establishment and silvicultural foresters, resource managers, remote sensing, GIS and mapping specialists and inventory foresters were involved in Rotorua on 18-19 November 2020.
Workshops, meetings, field demonstrations and a two-day technology conference and trade exhibitions all ran for the wider industry during the week.
The live and virtual hybrid format for ForestTECH 2020 also enabled a much wider cross-section of International presenters and delegates to be involved.
Delegates from 20 different countries for the first time were involved as part of the online streaming of the event out of Rotorua, New Zealand.
Delegates this year included representation from companies located in; New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Germany, Brazil, USA, Canada, Columbia, Chile, Ireland, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, China, South Africa, Latvia, Singapore and the United Kingdom.
ForestTECH 2020 for the first time in 13 years since it has been running was split into two main technology streams.
1. Remote sensing, data capture and inventory management
ForestTECH 2020 provided insights into new data collection technologies that have been developed and are being used operationally out in the forest along with advances that had been made on processing and better interpreting the big data streams now routinely being collected.
Updates on disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence, IOT, machine and deep learning, robotics, automation, daily satellite imagery, UAV’s and the use of virtual and augmented reality and how they’re being integrated into day to day operations of forestry companies were covered by international and national presenters.
2. Forest establishment, mechanised planting and silviculture
ForestTECH 2020 also included a full day on technologies around forest establishment, mechanised planting and silviculture.
A significant number of presentations given at last year’s ForestTECH series covered research and trials being undertaken on planting with drones, seedling deliveries from drones onto more remote planting sites and tree seedling survival counts using satellites, hyperspectral and multispectral imagery and deep learning.
As these new remote sensing technologies are being rolled out, there is an obvious cross over between forest data collection, remote sensing and cutting-edge research and trials around tree crop management.
Mechanised Planting Technologies
Recently, there had also been a resurgence of interest being shown by forestry companies in Australasia on mechanised or automated operations for planting and silviculture. The economics are starting to stack up and the technology in part can address the growing issue of labour shortages that are being faced over the planting season. Mechanised or machine planting is already successfully being used across Scandinavia and in South America. Operational trials have been undertaken in the central North Island of New Zealand last planting season with more extensive plantings using the mechanical planting systems undertaken on several larger forests this year.
Aside from addressing the shortage of planters this year because of COVID-19 restrictions, some of the advantages being seen of mechanised planting using planting heads mounted on an excavator are much better soil cultivation (ripping and mounding) for the young trees and greater consistency in the quality of the tree planting. Fertiliser granules can also be integrated into the planting process, along with herbicides or insecticides if required.
In drier climates or at the end of the planting season, tree planting can also be extended by the application of water (or slow release irrigation using gels) at the time of planting. This feature, particularly with eucalyptus plantings in countries like Chile, Brazil, South Africa, China and Indonesia, has been used successfully and is being trialled this season in northern NSW, Australia.
Each of the main mechanised planting head manufacturers; Bracke, Sweden, Risutec, Finland and the M-Planter, Finland (represented in this part of the world now by a CNI land preparation contractor) presented as part of ForestTECH 2020. Early trial results and lessons from trials by some of the larger companies in both New Zealand and Australia were detailed to ForestTECH 2020 delegates.
As well as on-ground mechanised planting, aerial planting systems using swarms of drones are also now fully operational. DroneSeed out of the US spoke at last year’s ForestTECH event. They’ve been employing swarms of UAV’s (or drones) to automate tree planting and spraying operations for a number of major North American forest management companies. Late last year, they’d also started commercial trials for planting in New Zealand. Their technology is capable of planting out at six times the speed of the human planter and in some pretty tight and tough terrain. This year they provided an update on their planting trials as well as their projects on reforestation and rehabilitation.
Another company with local ties, AirSeed Technologies, has also devised their own system allowing drones to plant large numbers of seeds in minutes using a pneumatic firing module. It can fire out two seeds per second at velocities of anywhere between 150 and 300 metres per second into the soil. The module, called a Podder, can be attached to the bottom of most popular drone models and a team of two, flying 2 drones, can plant up to 40,000 seeds into the ground in a day. AirSeed Technologies presented at ForestTECH 2020 on their drone technology and work in seedling and tree planting projects.
Together with resource and inventory management, the two days provided a comprehensive technology update for all those involved in forest operations, planning, data capture, forest establishment and tree crop management. Recordings of all presentations and PPT’s (where speaker approval was given) in addition to a comprehensive guidebook were made available to all physical and virtual on-line ForestTECH 2020 delegates.