News Environment, Forestry

The terms “precision silviculture” and “precision forestry” have popped up here and there over the past few years without, however, becoming stable concepts in the forest industry. What are the terms all about?

Precision forestry is an umbrella term which represents activities that are made more precise by using big data, ranging from harvesting to forest raising and regeneration. Precision silviculture in turn refers to regeneration and seedling stand tending whose effectiveness and functionality can be improved using more precise data.

“Precision silviculture means that the properties of the growth location and other environmental and condition factors are used more precisely in forest regeneration and raising”, says Timo Saksa, principal scientist at the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke). Growth is affected, above all, by the nutrient content and moisture of the soil, as a result of which there are changes in the relative differences between different tree species. By saying “other environmental factors”, Saksa means, for example, landscape and water protection factors, recreational values or, say, cultural heritage. With the use of correct tools, all of these can be addressed more precisely.

Precision cannot be improved without data

The terms of “precision silviculture” and “precision forestry” cannot be separated from digitalisation. “Precision silviculture” is based on having open access to more data which can be used in different ways”, Saksa says. Currently, open data is used to a much higher extent in logging than in silvicultural activities. According to Saksa, the reason for this is that development inputs are directed at sources of income. However, significant cost savings can be achieved by developing precision silviculture: for example, it is possible, already during regeneration felling, to identify the areas in which further management would be unproductive.

In other words, cost savings are based on higher proactivity: unnecessary work can be minimised by having access to more precise data. Then again, risk management improves, for example, through a more precise selection of tree species. When the tree species to be regenerated is selected more precisely by using a larger processing pattern, this results in mixed forests in which risks are easier to control and which are more resistant to damage. “Similarly, the spreading of root-rot disease can be kept under control by identifying the worst location-specific seats of root-rot, and then change the tree species in these locations”, Saksa says.

Following the example of Sweden and working together with other industrial sectors

In Finland, application development and, therefore, the spreading of precision silviculture are still in their early stages. Various pilot projects have been carried out, such as EFFORTE coordinated by Luke. Sweden has already taken the next steps: for example, soil cultivation is already based on routine tools that use open data, such as digital maps that represent the shapes of the land and the moisture of the soil in high precision. Timo Saksa believes that the use of digital maps can increase in silviculture in Finland through the introduction of different systems, such as the ASTA documentation system. Contractors have shown significant interest towards development.

This microstand map is created with original data which shows the growth index for each grid. In order to proceed to actual forest operations some grids need to be combined.
In this map the data is segmented to three growth classes that help to choose the most suitable tree species.

 

The most well-functioning solutions for real needs are not developed individually. Research and application development related to precision silviculture have been started together with Metsä Group in the EFFORTE project. Grid maps were produced for six regeneration sites in the Pirkanmaa region, in which growth potential was defined for each pixel and the most optimal tree species considering growth were defined for each grid. The purpose is to make the selection and patterning of tree species a semi-automatic routine and, finally, to improve tree growth.

It is essential that the forest industry is involved in application development so that the tools being developed serve those who make daily decisions on forest management and harvesting. What does Hannu Pirinen, development manager at Metsä Group, have to say about cooperation and new opportunities? Read more about field tests and plans for the future from the attached article.

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