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Living In The Past Can Be Costly

By:  Dr. Phil Dougherty, CFRAM/IFCO

Failure to not recognize that the environment and the world we live in have changed can be costly; especially in the forestry business.  It is easy to fall into the mold of “we know what we have seen or have experienced” and accept that as reality.  Failure to acknowledge that atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) , the substrate that trees convert into sugars and then into wood, has increased substantially over a 30 year period and will continue to increase over the next rotation results in an underestimate of expected production  from our forest lands.

The same stand that produced 5 green-tons/acre/year of wood (GTons/ac/yr) in the previous rotation would now be expected to produce nearly 6 GTons/ac/yr during the next rotation just due to CO2 improvements.   At a blended price of $20/Gton, this means that instead of growing $100/ac/yr of wood a stand planted today might produce $120/ac/yr of wood.  In addition, changes in genetic quality of the seedlings available today and improvements in forest management technology over the past 30 years have further increased production potential.

Genetic Improvement Impacts:

Over the past 30 year period a minimum of two cycles of breeding, testing and selection of new loblolly pine genotypes has taken place.  This, on the average, would be expected to increase annual production another 25%.   Thus, deploying the new genetics in an improved CO2 environment would raise expected annual production to about 7.5 GTons/ac/yr or to an annual earning potential of $150.00/ac/yr.  Tree improvement has brought even greater gains in the last decade with the commercialization of control-mass-pollinated (CMP) seedling production    McKeand, Abt, Allen, Li, Catts[1]  & D Dougtherty, J Wright[2].   The CMP process uses only the best male and female genotypes in an orchard to produce high yielding, high stem quality and more rust resistant seedlings.  Use of CMP seedlings can raise production a minimum of 10% bringing the annual production potential to 8.25 GTons/ac/yr or an annual growth worth rate of $165.00/ac/yr.

[1] What Are the Best Loblolly Pine Genotypes Worth to Landowners; S McKeand, R Abt, L Allen, B Li, & G Catts, Journal of Forestry, 2006 -104:352-358

[2] Improved Returns on Forestlands; D Dougherty & J Wright; Tree Farmer 28:1 2009 42-46

Improved Silviculture Impacts:

Technological improvements in site preparation, weed control and nutrition management have enabled increasing annual production equally as much as improvements in genetics  Fox, Jokela, Allen[1].    Silvicultural improvements coupled with good genetic seedlings can raise annual production rates to near 10 GTons/ac/yr or annual growth worth rate of $200.00 ac/yr.

[1] The Evolution of Pine Plantation Silviculture in the Southern United States; T Fox, E Jokela, L Allen, US Dept of Ag, Forest Service, Chapter 8: 63-82

1- CMP Age 11 Walton, Co. GA
1/ CMP Age 11 Walton, Co. GA
2- 1 Year OP Advanced Silviculture
2/ 1 Year OP Advanced Silviculture
3/ Prime-Superior Open Pollinate Family
3/ Prime-Superior Open Pollinate Family  






1/ An eleven-year old CMP stand planted at less than 300 tpa on a wide row spacing that has greater than 85% potential high quality sawtimber trees.

2/ A one-year-old fall planted container loblolly pine stand located in S.E. Georgia that has received advanced silvicultural treatments.   It averaged  four feet in height at the end of year-one.  In the 1970-1980 era this amount of growth would have taken between two-three years to achieve.

3/ A seven-year-old stand of prime-superior OP family growing in south Alabama.  This stand would have 55-65% high quality sawtimber stems and very low risk to fusiform rust and breakage due to forking or large ramicorn branches.



Stem and Wood Quality Impacts of Fast Grown Wood:

This age-old question always comes up: will wood growing this fast be useful for anything?  The truth is, future stands will be considerably better than previous rotation stands if the correct genetics and silvicultural practices are coupled.  A recent review of wood density changes  McKeand, Jett, Byram[1] suggest that there is no evidence of significant changes in wood properties with the faster grown wood.  Stands derived with new genetics that have greater branch size control, better straightness, less forking, less large ramicorn branches and less fusiform rust will have a greater percent of the trees that have high quality sawtimber potential and even pole potential logs.   More-better is always good.

The net effect of improvements in growth environment, genetics, and silviculture is that the annual growth potential of an average acre in the SE USA has at least doubled!  Indeed, it can be costly to assume nothing is different from the results you may have experienced in the past.  It truly is a new day in the forestry arena.    To efficiently capitalize on the new opportunities in forestry may require consulting with a professional forester that is current on the latest genetics and technology available and aware of the many silvicultural adjustments that need to be made when establishing todays’ high production forest stands.

[1] Good Wood; McKeand, Jett, Byram;  Forest Landowners, 2014 73: (2) 14-19


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