New Zealand to invest NZ$10.2M in Precision Silviculture, a NZ$25.5M, seven-year program led by Forest Growers Research; program will focus on developing mechanization, automation, digital technology, robotics in silviculture value chain

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand , May 6, 2022 (press release) –

An innovative high-tech approach to forestry management is set to transform New Zealand’s forestry industry, Forestry Minister Stuart Nash and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor announced today.

The Government is backing Precision Silviculture, a $25.5 million, seven-year programme led by Forest Growers Research Limited (FGR).

“The investment is part of the Government’s wider plan to provide economic security to workers and businesses, with higher skilled and high-wage jobs that support a low-emissions economy” said Stuart Nash.

“Silviculture is about controlling the composition, structure, growth and quality of a forest. It is essential to manage and create value from our plantation forests however it has remained a highly manual and labour-intensive work practice.

“We’re investing $10.2 million from the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund (SFF Futures) to enable the forestry industry to switch to the latest silviculture technology.

“The programme will focus on developing mechanisation, automation, digital technology and robotics in the silviculture value chain. This will have a major impact on the key silvicultural areas of planting, pruning and thinning, as well as in-nursery activities.”

“The innovative use of technology offers multiple benefits for the forestry sector. It will make silviculture work safer, more productive and more attractive to workers. The programme includes re-training workers to match the transition into high-tech jobs.

“It will also enable the forestry workforce to create higher-value products more efficiently.

“Advancements in mechanisation and precision automation will make the recovery of forest waste more financially viable. This will unlock potential to use biomass waste in new manufacturing chains. This could include biofuels and biodegradable alternatives to plastic products, such as disposable cups and packaging.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said the timing is right for this programme.

“A large number of forests planted in the 1990s are due for harvesting in the mid-2020s, so it’s an ideal time for this overhaul,” Damien O’Connor said. 

“It’s estimated that in total the programme has the potential to deliver $530 million of value to the plantation forestry sector and $190 million worth of innovative technology sales between now and 2035. Other benefits will be an improved pruned log supply for domestic wood processors, and use of the technology in indigenous forest establishment.

“This SFF Futures investment will enable the forestry industry to evolve at a pace that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. The programme fits with our Fit for a Better World roadmap for the food and fibre sector, which aims to boost sustainability, productivity and jobs over 10 years. The roadmap will help drive our economic recovery from COVID-19.

“We look forward to working with FGR to build a sustainable, profitable and internationally competitive forestry sector that delivers higher economic returns for New Zealand,” Damien O’Connor said.

Notes for editors

The Precision Silviculture programme involves four workstreams:

Workstream one

Nursery — creating value by improving efficiency: focused on reducing seedling costs to the forest owner. These include nursery labour costs, and non-labour costs such as seed and fertiliser. Prototype automation systems focusing on the key bottlenecks in the tree nursery production system will be delivered. The prototype development will span production activities in both containerised and non-containerised nurseries, from seed sowing through to deployment of seedlings in the forest.

Workstream two

Planting — creating value by mechanisation: focused on reducing the cost of planting by moving from manual planting to multiple mechanical planting and preparation operations. Mechanised planting systems will be delivered across key planting activities. This work will create novel prototype solutions for the delivery of additives that increase plant survival and extend the annual planting season.

Workstream three

Pruning — creating value by mechanisation: focused on creating value by reducing the costs of pruning by moving from manual pruning to mechanical pruning equipment. It will deliver prototype mechanical pruning systems that improve the safety and productivity of pruning operations.

Workstream four

Thinning – will reduce reliance on manual labour for forest operations and create a safer work environment. It will develop equipment and techniques that will enable forest owners and contractors to undertake cost effective mechanised thinning and extraction operations.

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