2011 was best year for Lapland pine seeds since 1998, with germination rate of up to 95%; pickers aim to collect enough cones to cover reforestation programs for a decade

HELSINKI , February 3, 2012 (press release) – The last major seed year for pine occurred in 1988 – and those seeds are still used. In some places the lack of seeds in effect decides forest regeneration methods.

It takes three years for a pine cone and seeds to develop and mature. In Lapland, three favorable summers for seed development seldom occur successively. Therefore good seed years occur on average once every decade in the north.

However, forest work is carried out every year: forests are felled and the law requires that a new one must be established in its place. Establishing a new forest requires seeds whether the forest is regenerated naturally or by cultivation. Cultivation means seeding or planting.

Therefore seeds are gathered during good seed years for a reserve supply for future years. The state funds this.

In Lapland and especially in Eastern Lapland, there has been a lack of pine seeds for years. The good seed year of summer 2011 was really needed.

“The last good seed year in here was in 2002. The last time the whole Lapland enjoyed a good seed year was back in 1998. And even then we did not get as good quality seed as now. If only there were more cones,” says Mr. Timo Ari, Forestry Engineer at Metsähallitus.

Germination percentage equals quality
The germination percentage of the seeds from pine cones gathered last fall has been up to 90–95. A high germination percentage is important for the seeding to succeed. The germination percentage decreases during the storage so there is no point in storing low-quality seeds in the first place.

In the north, the aim is to have enough seeds stored for a decade’s use. Currently the stock of seeds suitable to be used in North-Lapland is so low, that they cannot be used in forests. So far there have been enough seeds only for seedling producers.

Metsähallitus is responsible for gathering the seeds for Lapland’s reserve supply. Ari is responsible for organizing the work. “We organize it in cooperation with forest owners' associations,” he tells. Each association gets its quota and distributes it between its pickers. The pickers are paid 95–100 cents for a litre of cones.

Gathering cones requires a permission from the land owner. As the origin of the seeds must be known exactly, forest professionals determine where the cones are picked from.

150,000 liters were picked during fall
How much cones must be picked depends on how many cones are needed to produce a kilo of seeds. The number of seeds in a cone varies. In last fall’s crop, it took 175 litres of pine cones to get one kilo of seeds.

In addition, those responsible must estimate how much seed will be needed during the next ten years.

The goal last fall was to gather 170,000 litres of pine cones. The yield was 150,000. The plan is to pick an additional 115,000 litres during this spring, if the seed quality has survived the winter freeze.

Ari says a damp fall followed with a cold winter is a combination which can lower the quality substantially. And even if the spring picking succeeds, the seed gathered will not suffice for the next decade, he says.

In practice, the funds allocated in the state budget define how many cones can be gathered.

There’s no lack of pickers
Luckily the good seed year has woken others into action, too. Forest owners’ associations, companies, seed and seedling producers and Common Forests have gathered seeds for their own use. Metsähallitus’s own folk gather seeds, also.

”This is the first time they gather seeds on this large a scale for their own use. That amount will be enough for a year or two. It’s good we have responsible people in the field,” Ari says.

According to Ari, there is no lack of eager pickers. The spring picking season is especially popular. “The light lasts longer and the snow blanket is higher. Besides snow mobile, you can get to the cones by skis or snowshoes.”

The lack of seeds in Lapland makes cultivation by seeding difficult in some municipalities. As there are no seeds available for seeding, the pine forest must be regenerated by planting, which is more expensive.

The other option is to leave seed trees and trust natural regeneration. A lower germination percentage is enough in natural regeneration as there will be so many seeds per area. However, it can take many years for the seedling stand to be established.

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