Metsä Group is one of the industrial partners of the EFFORTE project and an active participant in the development of precision silviculture. Its activities have been part of the thesis work conducted by Esko Häyrynen, a graduate student and operational supervisor. In his work, Esko focuses on the big data-based regeneration chain and the choices made in it. The purpose is to build a tool to support decision-making processes in the regeneration chain. Esko’s work is supervised by Metsä Group’s development manager Hannu Pirinen.
The practical phase was carried out at six regeneration sites. The purpose was to apply precise data to the selection of the tree species and cultivation method by setting up precise grids of 16 × 16 metres. The most ideal tree species and cultivation method were defined for each grid or a combination of grids. The total area of nearly 60 hectares had room for a range of growth locations. “At this stage, we limited our research almost exclusively to mineral soil. Later, this method can, of course, be expanded to peatlands”, Pirinen says.
According to conventional forest regeneration methods, a forest expert analyses the properties of the growth location and the tree species that succeeded well or poorly in the location. Of course, any requests made by the landowner are taken into account. The forest expert acts as an advisor and offers assistance in decision-making processes, as well as evaluates the tree production potential and, for example, any susceptibility to damage.
“What precision silviculture and precision forestry add to the system is the possibility of having more precise evaluations. When we know the tree production potential in more detail, we can, for example, define the seedling volume more precisely, select the best possible regeneration method and tree species and, in some cases, produce savings in office work and, possibly, also in the amount of management”, Pirinen says.
Practical work started by measuring test areas. Information about the lengths of stems was obtained from the HPR files of harvesters and the age of trees was determined in test areas. On the basis of the age and length, it is possible to identify annual growth, based on which the fertility of the growth location can be analysed. As a result, it is possible to tackle two key questions: more precise activities help to maximise the expected net income and to evaluate them earlier and more precisely than at present, and help landowners to select the best regeneration and processing chain according to their expectations.
The journey from conducting the first field tests to building practical tools is a long one. The new tools of precision silviculture and precision forestry will become part of the day-to-day activities of forest experts at some stage, also at Metsä Group, but it is still too early to say how.
“The amount of potential is incredible, but integration always takes its time. One possibility is to present precise data in conjunction with open data about forest resources. In the future, precise data about the nutrient content of the growth location can also be produced, for example, regarding tree growth defined on the basis of laser screening. This method would produce exhaustive data before any felling and without any additional field measurements. Therefore, this method would also help to identify any special areas important in terms of nature management. As a result, this method would present significant improvements in the positioning of precise forest and nature management sites”, Pirinen says.
What is the cost of more precise activities? It is difficult to measure any direct benefits but Pirinen believes that, in the long term, precision silviculture will be financially feasible. “All investments have their repayment periods and, in addition to financial benefits, they also include benefits in terms of nature management”, he says.
Pirinen considers the soon-to-end cooperation with Luke to be valuable. Metsä Group’s highly advanced research and development activities always start from their own needs, which is why this cooperation with Luke adds something extra.
“This type of cooperation is highly valuable, something we would not be able to do on our own”, Pirinen says. Luke can also agree to this: research activities obtain similar benefits from industrial partners. Well-functioning cooperation with companies offers the best way to ensure that data is processed from research data into productive tools.