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December : Forecasting future silviculture technologies

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2 December, 2020

Forecasting future silviculture technologies

"A forecast of silviculture re-establishment technologies of the future in plantation forestry," was the topic of a research paper delivered at the 52nd International Symposium on Forestry Mechanisation held in Hungary last year.

The researchers were Muedanyi Ramantswana and Keith Little of Nelson Mandela University (NMU), Michal Brink and Paxie Chirwa of the University of Pretoria, and Rafaele Spinelli of the CNR IVALSA in Italy.

In an extended abstract of the paper published in the proceedings of the symposium, the authors reported that:

Technology is moving at a rapid pace, and in forestry, innovations are increasingly integrated with operations such as silviculture re-establishment (regeneration). Globally, re-establishment operations have traditionally been manually orientated except soil preparation techniques that have shown the most progress.

The main drivers of mechanisation in re-establishment are labour shortages, increasing labour costs, the need to increase productivity, the need to reduce exposure to safety risks, and to improve the quality and uniformity in forest stands.

However, unlike harvesting, re-establishment mechanisation is globally fragmented due to the wide variability of site factors, and how the practices are conducted.

Due to the increasing need to remain competitive and meet growing wood demands, there has been an increased focus on various innovative ways to improve re-establishment activities. However, little is known about new re-establishment technologies that exist in plantation forestry and how these may evolve going into the future.

The study aimed to identify potential re-establishment technologies and further forecast when they were likely to be adopted in future.

The Delphi technique was used to systematically elicit expert opinion on possible future re-establishment technologies with the highest probability of being adopted in operations. The technologies were broadly categorised into:

  • machine-specific developments,
  • material input innovations,
  • machine operator-specific innovations, and
  • computerised technology applications.


Within these wide-ranging technology areas, 18 specific technologies were identified and forecasted. The process involved distributing a questionnaire to 24 experts in the field of silviculture re-establishment in plantation forestry.

The technology forecasting spanned over six months and involved three rounds of response analysis and recirculating the questionnaire amongst the experts. Statistical analyses were conducted on the data to determine central tendencies (mode) and percentage change in predictions between Delphi 1 and Delphi 3 iterations.

The Delphi findings indicate that by "2025" there is a high chance that machine-specific technologies such as:

  • multi-functional machines
  • advanced machine terrain handling enhancements
  • drones and machine self-diagnosis and maintenance


will reach 50% adoption, whilst machine automation and robotics may reach 50% adoption about five years later.

In addition, by "2025" material input technologies such as:

  • paper-based pots,
  • optimised chemical applicators,
  • Nano-fertilisers and
  • low emission engines


will likely reach 50% adoption. The adoption rates of these technologies will be influenced by the availability of infrastructure, social and environmental pressures as well as legislation imposed by various external stakeholders.

The Delphi revealed that the adoption of operator-specific technologies is ongoing and progressive.

The experts concluded that the adoption of ergonomically friendly cabs occurred in "2018", and by "2025" the widespread adoption of simulation training and machine learning technologies can be expected.

The Delphi results also indicated that by "2025" real-time monitoring of operations, stands and operators, as well as big data processing technology, will reach 50% adoption.

Despite several potential future technologies identified in this study, advanced human interface technology and remote-control technologies were identified as highly unlikely to be adopted in the future.

Although one study is insufficient to completely reorient the industry as a whole, this study has exposed key new relevant technologies that forest owners need to be aware of when they plan for the future.

Extracted from I. Czupy (2019): Exceeding the Vision: Forest Mechanisation of the Future. Proceedings of the 52nd International Symposium on Forestry Mechanization. Sopron, Hungary 2019. e-book 651p.

Source: Joy Crane
WoodSA & Timber Times