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Mechanical planting trials show promise

19 December 2020

At the end of last year, well over 300 tree crop managers, establishment foresters and remote sensing specialists attended or came in remotely for the ForestTECH 2020 event that was held in Rotorua, New Zealand. In it, for the first time in this region, the key suppliers of mechanised planting equipment out of Europe, local companies that were making modifications to some of this equipment for local conditions and forestry companies, both in Australia and New Zealand, outlined some of their results from operational planting trials using the mechanised gear.

From Australia, Forestry Corporation of NSW detailed their early trials using tree planting equipment manufactured by Risutec in Finland. They had just finished trialling mechanical forest planting in the Nundle area, with the technology offering many advantages for the bushfire recovery planting program.

The trial was conducted using the Risutec equipment and it was the first time that this equipment has been used in Australia. The use of mechanical planting has the potential to reduce the need for site preparation, to increase planting rates and to extend the planting season, said Forestry Corporation’s Manager of Innovation and Research, Mike Sutton.

“Mechanical planting could be a way of addressing the extra workload ahead of us in replanting burnt forests, while maintaining a safe workplace for our crews and contractors,” Mr Sutton said. “The trial is a partnership between Forestry Corporation and All Above Reforestation Australia, with support from Risutec and Komatsu, to explore how planting machinery can complement on-ground crews”.

“The trial is a great opportunity to advance the forestry industry’s knowledge in this area.” The planting technology offers many benefits for the replanting program, including extending the planting day (by operating at night under lights) and planting season (with the option of irrigation), spot site preparation, and GPS navigation and tagging of tree planting locations.

The 40-hectare trial, across two compartments at Hanging Rock State forest, identified the potential benefits of mechanised planting and ways that the equipment and operations could be improved. “We look forward to comparing the performance of the machine-planted seedlings with hand planting at the six-month survival assessment,” Mr Sutton said.

“The planting head spot-cultivates at the time of planting, removing the need for separate site preparation. The trial was able to demonstrate that the spot cultivation was superior to conventional site preparation – i.e. ripping followed by “double-dig” planting with a spade. “Cultivation, planting and the optional application of herbicide, water and a water-retaining gel is done in one pass.”

All Above Reforestation leased the machinery from a New Zealand business to assess its suitability for use in NSW forests, said Managing Director Shay Radcliffe. “Despite some initial teething problems, the planting unit exceeded our expectations.”

Photo: All Above Reforestation, Shay Radcliffe & FCNSW, Mike Sutton

Source: Forestry Corporation of NSW

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