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Tree seedlings – grown at speed

30 July 2023

For the first time in Australasia, a unique system of raising tree seedlings is going to be unveiled to the local forestry industry. Using the concept of vertical farming systems (growing crops in vertically stacked layers), Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) who’re looking to plant tens of millions of new trees (conifers such as Norway and sitka spruce, douglas fir and Scots pine, and broadleaf varieties such as oak, alder and birch) in the coming years, have trialled a new nursery system that they’re hoping will enable them to meet their ambitious planting targets.

Trials with both conifers and broadleaved species using this vertical “growing machine” have shown that the system can produce seedlings six times faster than open grown stock. In the open, it would take about 18 months to bring a tree seedling up to 40-50mm in height; in these vertical farming units, that growing time is about 90 days.

“These experiments have a much greater success rate than normal methods, said Kenny Hay, Tree Nursery & Seed Resource Manager for Forestry and Land Scotland (the Scottish Government agency responsible for managing Scotland’s national forests and land). “Traditionally, seeds would be scattered by machine across a nursery bed, known as broadcast sowing. Up to 50% of those seeds may fail to produce seedlings. In these optimised towers, the survival rate is about 95%”.

Hay predicts that if FLS buys and runs its own growing tower, it could produce up to 60% of the 24m new trees the agency needs each year – chiefly commercially planted conifers to meet the UK’s timber needs, of which 80% is currently imported.

Both FLS and Intelligent Growth Solutions, the Edinburgh-based firm that has designed the system, will be presenting at Australasia’s forest technology series in November, ForestTECH 2023. Full programme details for both the Rotorua, New Zealand and Melbourne, Australia leg of this year’s series can be found on the event website.

Image credit: Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS)

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