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Future proofing our forestry sector

5 March 2023
Future-proofing New Zealand’s radiata pine plantations against climate challenges and a rapidly changing economic environment has become a whole lot easier with a world-leading application of Genomic Selection (GS), a tool to accelerate conventional tree breeding.

A partnership between the Radiata Pine Breeding Company (RPBC), New Zealand’s specialist radiata pine breeding company, and Scion, a Crown Research Institute formerly known as the Forest Research Institute, has seen GS successfully applied operationally at large scale in radiata pine breeding.

The successful use of Genomic Selection technology late last year for radiata pine seedlings was the result of years of research and development investment by RPBC’s shareholders and an MBIE-funded scientific collaboration with Scion which began in 2014.

“Our challenge as an industry is to select the best trees with improved traits for growth rate, wood quality, and enhanced disease resistant qualities – all of which are vitally important contributors to the progress of radiata forestry,” Darrell O’Brien, RPBC ’s General Manager says. The work RPBC undertakes is strategically positioned to contribute to the delivery of the government’s strategy of creating a high value and resilient forestry and wood processing sector.

The first step in implementing GS for radiata breeding was the development of the world’s first radiata pine SNP chip – a tool which allows fast and efficient identification of specific genes – to significantly reduce the cost of genotyping, essentially making it financially viable. “We are beginning work this year to genotype 10,000 radiata pine needle samples per annum,” Darrell says. “This means our strategy of reducing the RPBC radiata pine tree breeding cycle from 18+ years to 9 years is becoming reality.”

The result will be that RPBC shareholders and the wider radiata pine forestry sector benefit in both the short and long terms from faster creation of improved germplasm and deployment of better-quality seed stock. From a low emissions future perspective, faster deployment of improved trees to the production forest can translate to a larger percent of logs at harvesting achieving higher grades.

Higher-grade logs can be used in areas such as construction and furniture which locks up more carbon for longer periods. Scion geneticists have conservatively estimated that the genetic gain in radiata pine by way of tree breeding has added NZ$8.5 Billion in income to the New Zealand national forest estate.

Source: RPBC

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