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What’s the best use for that timber?

It’s possible to predict wood quality in standing trees – resulting in more efficient harvest strategies and downstream processing – thanks to an innovative multi-disciplinary research project.

In an industry first, forestry scientists and mathematicians teamed up to take a virtual look inside a tree and develop algorithms to predict the best use for the timber. 

This work will lead to both growers and processors being able to plan more confidently for specific products from a harvest, improving returns throughout the supply chain from plantation to finished wood product.

The primary aim of this project was to characterise the southern pine estate in order to understand variation across the estate. This allowed the team to estimate the quantity of wood of a given performance (e.g. its stiffness class) in a stand of trees. 

Stiffness is characterised by the measurement of the Modulus of Elasticity (MOE). The MOE dictates the mechanical grade of the board (or other structural products) extracted from the log. A board’s market value is directly linked to its stress grade based on individual Machine Graded Pine grades  (e.g. MGP10). The researchers report that a cubic metre of structural board – MGP10 and above – is worth about $350/m3 whereas non-structural board – less than MGP10 – is worth about $80/m3.

Although most structural timber framing used in Queensland’s construction industry comes from the state’s 150,000 hectares of subtropical southern pine plantations, not every tree, nor every part of a tree, is suitable for structural use.

The southern pine resource includes slash pine (Pinus elliottii) Caribbean pine (P. caribaea var. hondurensis) and a locally-developed hybrid pine, as well as smaller areas of loblolly pine (P. taeda).

Southern pine species and wood properties vary between, and within, plantation sites. This affects the suitability of certain logs for use in different products as well as the cost-effectiveness of retrieving the timber.

The collaborative project, “Improving returns from southern pine plantations through innovative resource characterisation”, was supported by FWPA, the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, HQPlantations, Hyne and Son, Forest Corporation New South Wales, HVP Plantations and the University of the Sunshine Coast. 

The final report, including key findings and recommendations, is available on the FWPA website.

Posted Date: April 11, 2019

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