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Programme two newsletter - The Wood From The Trees - Issue two

Newsletter of the High-Value Wood Resources
research programme of the CRC for Forestry


From the Programme Manager
Dr Chris Harwood

The CRC for Forestry Annual Research Meeting was held in July at the University of Melbourne Creswick campus, and provided a great opportunity for Programme Two participants to meet, many for the first time. Those who attended received a good over-view of our first year of operation. CRC members can view a summary slide presentation of the first year's progress, and minutes of the Programme and Project committee meetings, on the members' website (members only).

It has taken some time for us all to "learn the ropes" of the CRC finance and reporting systems and I am confident that we are now making strong scientific progress with our research projects. Industry partners are providing excellent in-kind support for the major experiments that are already underway. A review of our milestones during the Annual Research Meeting indicated that we are on or ahead of track for almost all milestones.

We are currently finalising contract details to welcome two new participants in Programme Two, the Queensland Government of Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, and Midway; plus additional investment from Integrated Tree Cropping, Great Southern Plantations and Forest Enterprises Australia (link to the websites of each of these organisations - see partners for links).

This has enabled us to set up a fifth research project, "High-Value Wood Products from Subtropical Plantations" (link to High-Value Wood Products from Subtropical Plantations below)

During the annual meeting, our external science reviewer, Dr Steve Verryn of South Africa's CSIR, provided a valuable international perspective on our programme's objectives and methods. We have set ourselves a big challenge in trying to integrate genetic improvement, silviculture, processing and sampling systems that describe stand value, and develop decision support systems that will really help growers maximise profitability and make solid-wood plantations a sound investment.

As noted by Steve, it is essential for us to keep in close contact with other research groups worldwide who are also integrating multidisciplinary research programmes to achieve higher-value plantations. Drs Peter Volker and Tom Baker, who are co-leaders of Project 2.2, will be visiting several eucalypt growing companies in Chile in October. They will inspect established clonal plantations of Eucalyptus globulus. We are hoping that collaboration with the Chilean companies will provide some hard data on whether "going clonal" results in greater stand uniformity and therefore lowers harvesting costs. There are strong cross-programme links to CRC Research Programme Three (members only), and RP3's newly recruited Chilean scientist Mauricio Acuna has been facilitating their visit. Look out for Peter and Tom's report in our next newsletter!

Steve also reminded us that one of the measures of improvement in plantation value will be environmental benefit - reduced wastage and lower environmental impact in resource processing.

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What's on

The First Australasian Forest Genetics Conference will be held in Hobart, 11-14April 2007. CRC for Forestry research will be reported at this meeting and it will be a great opportunity for researchers and students to catch up on the latest research and breeding programmes for eucalypts and pines. Thanks to the Forests and Wood Products Research and Development Corporation, Ensis, the Southern Tree Breeding Association and Forests NSW who are all supporting this important meeting.

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Project news

Project 2.2 Silviculture for High-Value Solid and Engineered Wood Products

A silvicultural trial is being established by University of Melbourne researchers in a three-year-old Eucalyptus nitens plantation near Carrajung in West Gippsland, Victoria. This plantation was established by Hancocks Victoria Plantations and will be used to examine the interactions between thinning, pruning and fertiliser on growth by measuring canopy development and physiology.

The trial consists of a factorial design with three factors:

  • Thinning
    • unthinned (about 900 stems per hectare)
    • thinned to 300 stems per hectare
  • Pruning
    • unpruned
    • prune the lower 50 per cent of the green crown length
  • Fertilising
    • fertilised only at establishment
    • fertilised at age three years with 300 kg per hectare.

During the last few weeks the plots have been set up and crop trees have been selected Weeds have been slashed and plots are now being pruned, thinned and fertilised.

Five trees have been sampled to examine canopy architecture, and above-ground biomass and its partitioning to leaves and wood. Canopy physiology has also been investigated in the upper, middle and lower thirds of the canopies of trees in the control plots. Future work will involve quarterly physiological measurements, half-yearly measurements of branch development in the lower six metres of the stems and annual measurements of tree growth responses, biomass partitioning and canopy architecture.

University of Melbourne researcher David Forrester measuring
the gas exchange of a leaf from the upper canopy

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Project 2.4 Incorporating Wood Quality into Plantation Estate Management

Progress with near infra red analysis - from Geoff Downes

Near infra red (NIR) analysis offers a low-cost tool for predicting wood chemical and physical properties.

One of the goals of Project 2.4 is to see NIR prediction taken up by CRC for Forestry members and applied routinely to:

  • Better describe and forecast tree and stand value
  • Be used in decision support systems for silvicultural management.

We have been consolidating cellulose and kraft pulp yield (KPY) data to see whether we can develop a single multi-site, multi-species NIR prediction model. Most NIR studies to date have predicted KPY or cellulose for a single species at a single site. This approach has reduced the commercial application of NIR for predicting wood properties, as the calibration demands are too costly if they have to be done separately for each site and species. Combined with an understandable discomfort with the multivariate statistical approach required by NIR, this has made potential users wary.

We decided that one of the most important industry needs was to test whether a single calibration could be applied across sites and/or species. The graph below illustrates one of several encouraging results. Using over 200 samples of Eucalyptus globulus and E. nitens collected by previous CRCs, a multi-site calibration for cellulose prediction was developed by University of Tasmania technical officer Linda Ballard.

The graph below shows how this calibration performed when applied to an independent set of 30 E. globulus samples from a new site - the Gunns Ltd progeny trial at Shale Oil, north-west Tasmania, which is being studied in Project 2.1. You can see that the NIR predictions agree well with the cellulose values of these 30 samples obtained by chemical analysis.



Similar results have been obtained for kraft pulp yield. Over the next few months we intend to build larger models across more species and sites, and test these to determine an optimal number of samples required in a calibration to give robust predictions.

Some researchers and most of the industry partners in Project 2.4 have also been separately involved in a FWPRDCfunded project which has assessed KPY prediction for E. globulus in the field using a portable NIR instrument on standing trees. The encouraging results of this project have been reported to the FWPRDC and discussions are now underway to determine how the CRC for Forestry can further develop this research.

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Project 2.5 High-Value Wood Products from Subtropical Plantations

This new project will be led by Kevin Harding of the Queensland Government of Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries. It has taken some time to set it up so that it will complement, but not duplicate, genetic, silvicultural and processing research on subtropical eucalypt plantations being carried out through two ACIAR projects, research already scheduled in CRCF Projects 2.2, 2.3 and 2.4, and the research programmes being run by Queensland Government of Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries and Forests NSW.

Our strategy is to implement additional silvicultural research through Project 2.2, Silviculture for High Value Wood Products, over the next three years, then run a separate Project 2.5 in the last three years of the CRC's operation, when processing studies will be able to access the silvicultural experiments that have been set up. The value of the pruning and thinning trials established by Forestry Tasmania in Eucalyptus nitens plantations in the 1980s is now clear as CRCF scientists study the experimental trees and their wood products.

Now we have the chance to leave a strong legacy of high-quality experimental field trials of the target subtropical eucalypts so that in later years, extending beyond the life-span of CRCF, we can get hard answers about how best to manage subtropical plantations and process their wood products.

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Welcome to new students

We welcome Mr Saravanan Thavamanikumar, a PhD student who commenced work in August 2006 on an association genetics study in Project 2.1. This project will improve pulpwood quality of Eucalyptus globulus through molecular breeding. Saravanan has joined Luke McManus and Gerd Bossinger at Melbourne University's Creswick campus. Luke and Saravanan collected DNA samples from over 800 trees in the Gunns Ltd E. globulus progeny trial at Shale Oil, near Latrobe in north-west Tasmania. They worked with University of Tasmania PhD student Des Stackpole, who now knows the trial like the back of his hand, after sampling over 2200 trees for wood properties (members only).

We are currently in discussion with several student candidates for positions in Projects 2.1 and 2.3. Remember to keep your eyes peeled for suitable candidates for the vacant postgraduate student positions (members only) in our projects.

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