I order to satisfy the future demands of wood biomass in Finland wood production has to be increased. There are certainly still several ways to increase the productivity of the present forests, but there is a limit to this. In addition, other functions of the forests, such as conservation of biodiversity, carbon sequestration, non wood products and recreation, are putting increasing demands on the forests.
One solution may be short rotation wood plantations. Such plantations aim to achieve a maximum biomass production. For Finland, short rotation would mean from four to five years for willows up to about 20 to 25 years for with species such as birch, alder, hybrid aspen and other poplar species. The species used in short rotation plantations should have a good ability to regenerate from root or stem suckers in order to be able to harvest several successive crops from one plantation.
Short rotation wood plantations should be considered as a serious alternative for wood biomass production in Finland.
Short rotation wood plantations could be an alternative especially on areas that are presently considered as waste land, such as areas that become available after peat excavation, in Finland about 2500 ha every year. Other options are abandoned agricultural fields, sites with unbalanced nutrition state or sides of forest roads.
Globally short rotation wood plantations are not a new concept. A first example coming into the mind may be the eucalyptus plantations in Southern America and Asia, but there are also examples closer by, like the willow plantations for bioenergy in southern Sweden. In Finland, on the other hand, short rotation wood plantations have not made their break-through yet in spite of several attempts in the past.
Around the change of century for example, the Metsäliitto company (presently Metsä Group) had little success in trying to get land owners interested in growing hybrid aspen with a rotation time of about 25 years. At that time recent results from field trials, demonstrating the growth potential of hybrid aspen, up to 20 m3/ha/year, were not yet available and of course one should not ignore the risks, such as biological damages, especially by moose. Nor should one ignore the fact that the costs to establish those short rotation hybrid aspen plantations were quite high. On the other hand, these were rather scattered and small scale plantations. Concentrating on larger plantations in a smaller area, preferably close to the user of the wood produced, should decrease costs significantly.
Short rotation wood plantations should be considered as a serious alternative for wood biomass production in Finland too. Therefore short rotation wood plantations will be part of Luke’s Boreal Green Bioeconomy theme.