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Tech advancements and trials with mechanised planting

3 April 2022

The second day of the just-completed ForestTECH 2021/22 event focussed on advancements in automated silviculture with a particular focus on mechanised planting operations – new technology, developing technologies and an insight into results from local forest trials and commercial planting operations. In short, like Europe and South America in particular, the cost and availability of labour for planting have both been major drivers to testing out mechanised planting operations here in Australasia. 

Full presentations (along with recordings of each presentation) have been sent out now to all of the 300 plus delegates involved in this years’ event. Feedback is already telling us that Covid permitting, we will look to set up an event later in the year so foresters and tree crop managers can meet up in person – after almost two years of shutdowns and restrictions on travel. Details on plans for later in 2022 will follow a little later. 

For your information and use, videos of some of the key presentations around mechanised planting systems have been uploaded to the ForestTECH 2021/22 and ForestTECH.News websites. Videos include:

  1. Manulife Forest Management
  2. Henry Fear Contracting
  3. Risutec
  4. Plantma X
  5. Bracke Forest
Manulife Forest Management

Manulife Forest Management (formerly Hancock Forest Management) have been testing mechanised planting in Kinleith Forest, Tokoroa, New Zealand. Machine planting using a 20-tonne excavator and M-Planter planting head (holding 160 trees) started in May 2020. With now two planting seasons completed, they have planted 90-100 ha each year. Compared to manual planting and slash raking – the set-up enables other tree establishment operations to be undertaken like spot mounding and ripping. 

After starting at 600 trees per day they finished the first planting season at a planting rate of around 1,400 trees per day. Key learnings were that at the higher planting speeds, about 25% of the planted trees suffered in planting quality (loose trees, not planted to the right depth, trees not planted straight…). In short, the faster they went – the bigger the mess. For the second season, they deliberately dropped back the planting rate to 1,000 trees per day with the reject rate considerably less, under 5%, which is more in keeping with manual planting.

The other key lesson to mechanised planting was that you have to have appropriate tree stock quality and supply arrangements in place to match the scale of the operation. Only containerised tree stocks with a sound plug are acceptable. Refilling of trees into the planter head also is an area being looked at as the company looks to make mechanised planting more economic in the upcoming planting season. As well as planting the company is also understanding and quantifying the indirect benefits (post-plant releasing, mechanised thinning and precise stocking and carrying capacity) from mechanised planting. 

The company continues to assess how it can quantify and extract the full value of mechanised planting for its forest operations.

Henry Fear Contracting

Henry Fear of Henry Fear contracting has been involved in early mechanised planting operations in the central North Island of New Zealand for several years. He ran three M-Planting operations since the 2020 planting season. The planting system includes a rip of around one metre and planting mound of 300mm. Fertiliser can also be applied at the time of planting, depending on the site. 

Henry, along with Timberlands has also been undertaking the first NZ trials of applying hydrogel at the time of planting to extend the planting season. They’ve been comparing different hydrogels (Agpro and Dalton’s products) and have developed a targeted fluid application system for the M-planter. Early results with the application of the hydrogel indicate no noticeable difference in mortality, no noticeable difference between the different hydrogel products that were being tested and no indication of detrimental effects from hydrogel saturating the root system. 

The next testing has been set down to commence with 6,000 trees in March 2022 (an early start to the planting season) where trials may be extended into dryer parts of New Zealand as well as working on other applications such as fertiliser, growth hormones or rooting agents at the time of planting. 

Risutec

Risutec, a Finnish mechanised planting head supplier outlined the principal reasons for the change from manual planting operations. These included; the ability to collect valid reliable data on forest establishment at the time of planting, the ability to GPS-tag every tree at the time of planting, addressing issues of rising labour costs and reducing risks associated with managing multiple contractors and overcoming poor silvicultural practices.

The ability to combine all stages of reforestation – guidance, soil cultivation, planting, compaction, watering, herbicide and fertilizer application with real-time monitoring and control also is a significant advantage over manual planting. It also opens the door to more agile service providers that can take responsibility of providing a full package of silvicultural services to forestry companies.

Stora Enso – Plantma X

Stora Enso provided an update on the deployment of mechanised planting systems in Finland and Sweden. For Finland, < 5% of all planting is mechanised (around 31 mechanised planters (Risutec, Bracke and M-planter) and in Sweden, < 1% of planting is using mechanised planters (around 10 mechanised planters: Bracke). A new planting system was introduced that’s been developed in Sweden, Plantma X. It’s a planting system quite different to the common excavator and planting head set up. In 2021, three major Swedish forestry companies were using the new planter and mechanised planting trials were set up for December 2021 through March 2022 in the southeast US. Further details on the company can be found on plantmaforestry.com.

Bracke Forest

A range of mechanised planting and direct seeding machines by Swedish manufacturer Bracke Forest were outlined. A new seedling carousel has been introduced by the company that can take up to 196 seedlings. Integrated systems for irrigation and fertilization are also available. Irrigation is achieved either by water gel or with water through the planting tube. Fertilisation is by granulated fertiliser via two tubes located on each side of the planting tube and the planter can be fitted with a sub-soiler to loosen up the soil at each planting spot if the soil hasn’t been scarified or ripped.

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