Enrico Savona’s visit to Itapetininga, São Paulo, Brazil, begins with an early-morning jeep ride through pitch-black mist, along the edge of a forest. When the road ends, he and local colleagues continue their journey into the forest on foot. As the heat rises with the sun, an emerald dome of Eucalypt trees appears, rising to 25 meters. As Global Market Manager for Forestry and Industrial Vegetation Management at Bayer, Savona and his team are there to assess a man-made forest that has a special purpose.
As developing nations improve their living standards and mature economies grow older, demand for cellulose-based products is growing. According to a 2015 study of global paper markets by Pöyry Management Consulting, the need for paper products like cardboard and tissue paper is forecast to grow to 1.1 percent each year through at least the next decade. While this percentage may sound small, the study suggests that this could translate into producing 482 million tons of cellulose-based material by 2030. But can this increased yield be achieved sustainably? Brazil may have found a sustainable method to tackle this challenge by focusing on man-made forestry in an area that is about one percent of its total land.
Looking at the Forests and the Trees
Enrico Savona and his team help commercial companies manage Intensively Managed Plantation Forestry (IMPF). These man-made plantations grow trees with a short harvest period, roughly 6-8 years. Savona and his team oversee stewardship: guiding companies with scientifically based best practices in growing these trees free from undesired weeds and pests.
Their advice is particularly important for forestry companies since IMPF programs use specially zoned land that must follow strict scientific, governmental and environmental regulations. For example, IMPF should be developed on reclaimed land: This is land that was either deforested prior to 1994 or former agricultural lands. Further, Savona says, “It’s crucial that forestry companies satisfy all requirements to be certificated by local and global organizations which strictly promotes responsible forest management to protect forest sustainability and sustainable product development.”
According to Dr. José Leonardo Gonçalves, professor of silviculture sciences at the University of São Paulo (USP), in Brazil, around 80 percent of the trees on these plantations are Eucalypts. They include the naturally drought-resistant E. grandis and E. urophylla varieties from northern Queensland, Australia, and their hybrids. Pine and other tree types, including teak and rubber, compose the remaining 20 percent. “This mix of tree types promotes stronger biodiversity,” says Gonçalves.
There’s great satisfaction when science and business work together to support the environment.
At the same time, Eucalypt trees compose most of these plantations for a few reasons, he continues. First, this species is highly adaptable to Brazil’s tropical and semi-tropical climate. “And the current generation of Eucalypts takes just six to eight years to harvest,” he adds. This compares to a 15-year growth cycle for pine, and even hundreds of years for other trees. The Eucalypt’s fast, dependable growth provides a cost-efficient source of cellulose. “This means that natural forests are left untouched, which is a huge benefit for biodiversity in these areas,” says Savona. “With plantation forestry, we have an alternate, purpose-built source for pulp and cellulose.” The plantations also contribute to carbon sequestration, and they provide economic growth.
A Scientific Look at Trees
Brazilian forestry activities receive substantial attention from the federal and regional governments, as well as NGOs, businesses as well as scientific researchers. Among Dr. Gonçalves’ research colleagues is Professor Irae Guerrini from São Paulo State University-UNESP. Both experts observe that as Brazil’s climate has become warmer, plantation water levels and soil quality have been negatively affected. “Plant diseases, like blight, and pests such as stem borers and psyllids are becoming more problematic as they evolve alongside the changing climate,” says Guerrini. “Science is keeping up, so far.”
Guerrini encourages detailed understanding about the full range of impacts these plantations have on natural resources. “There is much attention to the amount of water Eucalypts require,” Guerrini says. “Yet they also prevent overfilling of local reservoirs. While it’s important to manage water, we can also see positive effects from plantations.” Gonçalves agrees: “Even though the Eucalypt isn’t native to Brazil, this species can add value to the environment.”
Dr. Gonçalves says that the Eucalyptus species is valuable in how it adapts to the environment. And new hybrids have been developed to match regional soil, water and geographic conditions. Still, forestry companies need to work with the plants and land carefully. As an example, established forestry tools such as pit diggers (used for deep digging, particularly on steep slopes) and rippers (for shallow areas of less than 30 cm) should prepare the soil to increase rainfall infiltration and reduce runoff, which can prevent water imbalances.
Plant diseases are becoming more problematic as they evolve alongside the changing climate.
Doing the Work Right
Doing the Work Right
The distance between trees must be carefully considered, notes Gonçalves. “Close spacing promotes faster development of the leaf area index (LAI), which increases photosynthesis.” Depending on the area’s water conditions, spacing can be adjusted to increase or decrease LAI so the plants will grow optimally in their location. And while weed control is particularly important prior to planting, as the plants grow, forestry companies need to consider that weeds can also provide plantations with nutrient conservation, erosion reduction and biodiversity. Guerrini adds, “These decisions are scientific and economic. This is where the management aspect of these plantations is so important.”
Enrico Savona and his team support forestry companies in evaluating their plantation forestry decisions. “Consider weed control: During the very early stage of tree growth, in the first 6 to 12 months, it’s important that the tree can absorb the maximum level of nutrients, which are either present in the soil or added through fertilization,” says Savona. In this time, it is important to reduce the presence of weeds to avoid competition for nutrients with the planted tree. “Think of a tree like a baby: adequate and balanced early-stage nutrition is key for its development. Stewarding plants this way makes environmental and economic sense. Decisions have to be made based on scientific knowledge of the species and the ecosystem while maintaining a strong overall landscape; this means more efficiency, which also translates into savings.” Savona adds.