Rapid access to the best saplings
The forest owners will gain faster access to the best plant material available. Södra is driving the development of new methods to increase forest growth and forestry profitability.
In order to achieve the best results in the forest, refined cultivation materials are used. Plant breeding is a long-term endeavour to develop genetically superior material. Characteristics in the material that are prioritised the highest are vitality, good growth and straight trees.
In order for high-quality material to always be available, seeds are bred en masse through the planting of seed plantations. Seeds now being harvested at the best plantations are assessed to result in trees with 10–15 per cent higher growth than is possible with unrefined material. However, the plant breeders already possess knowledge of how material can be chosen that results in 25–30 per cent better growth.
The problem of softwood seeds, above all, is that it takes a long time for the trees to bloom. Seeds that are harvested today represent the best knowledge we had a few decades ago. Södra acts as a driver of development in order for the forest owners to more quickly gain access to the very best sapling material.
One way forward is to pick seeds from controlled cross-breeds, which the plant breeders of the Forestry Research Institute of Sweden (Skogforsk) are doing. Since such seeds are very expensive, they cannot be used in commercial sapling production. In order to obtain saplings at a reasonable cost, these seeds need to be bred with other methods, such as by sowing the seed and cultivating elite saplings in a nursery and then taking cuttings. Each sapling provides 10 to 20 new cuttings that result in finished saplings after about five years.
The cutting activities have been under way for a few years at Södra Odlarna’s nursery in Falkenberg. Elite trees from "Ekebo Elite" – Skogforsk’s cultivation population – will become finished pine saplings in 2011. Around 300,000 saplings can then be delivered to Södra’s members. In a few years, this number is expected to have increased to 1.5 million. Södra’s cuttings are expected to provide around 25 per cent better growth than unrefined material, resulting in a rotation period in the forest that is five to ten years shorter.
Somatic embryogenesis is the name of a method for achieving the cultivation effects even faster. This entails that the embryos from pine seeds are bred artificially as "seed cuttings", which makes it possible to quickly produce many seedlings from one seed. Now that this research has been conducted in laboratories for several years, Södra is supporting a project conducted by Swe Tree Technologies to adapt the method to practical operations. If the outcome of the tests is positive, production can begin in a few years. Then it will only take one to two years before the saplings are in the hands of the forest owners.
While Södra is breeding the best material in terms of growth, the genetic variation is being preserved. The material that comes out to the forest owners will have a genetic breadth that is at least as large as in natural renewal. Combining high growth and high genetic diversity is possible because of the far-sighted cultivation strategy that has permeated Skogforsk’s work for many decades.