1 December, 2020
Modernisation is an ongoing process
"You are never modernised; it is an
ongoing process," is both a reminder and a warning that risk assessment
and continuous improvement pave the road to modernisation and business competitiveness
Dean Da Costa made the remark during a
recent silviculture webinar. He was explaining why Mondi launched its strategic,
and carefully managed silviculture modernisation programme in 2012.
He emphasised that modernisation and
mechanisation are not synonymous. "Modernisation can be an ergonomic,
safety or technical intervention ranging from a better hand tool to a fully
mechanised operation. Mechanisation is the introduction of machinery to an
operation as part of modernisation."
Over the past eight years, Mondi has shared
the ups and downs of its progress and learnings with industry. The most recent
report was during a silviculture webinar hosted in October by the forestry
department at Nelson Mandela University (NMU).
Dr Muedanyi Ramantswana facilitated the
"Towards modernised silviculture," virtual seminar. Introducing the event,
he said a frequently asked question is why modernising of silviculture has lagged
behind harvesting. This phenomenon is not unique to South Africa, and globally there
have been significant changes in silviculture activities over the last decade.
"We have seen the introduction and
adoption of new technologies by local stakeholders driven by various reasons,
such as the need to increase productivity and to reduce costs. However, even
though silviculture has left us behind for several years, there is growing
interest both locally and internationally in our innovations in this field,"
The silviculture experts who agreed to
share their experiences, and their topics, were:
Shaun Biggs of Ellepot South
Africa: Paper-based pots as a solution for improved mechanised planting.
Helgaard Steenkamp of Novelquip
Equipment: Bringing precision to mechanised planting operations.
Jacob Zimbodza of Siyanquoba
Forestry Solutions and NMU: The effects of manual, motor manual and mechanised
pit preparation techniques on tree growth response and operational productivity.
Sean Mackenzie of Silvix
Forestry: How modernised silviculture can be achieved through simple and
Nicky Gwende of Thuthugani
Contractors: The keys to successfully transition from manual to modernised
silviculture - a contractor's perspective.
Dean da Costa of Mondi: The challenges
and solutions to modernised silviculture at a large scale.
Prof Saulo Guerra of UNESP and
IPEF: The status of silviculture modernisation in Brazil.
According to the speakers, all businesses
need to become and remain competitive. The key drivers of modernisation in forestry
are to increase productivity and reduce costs, improve the quality and
consistency of operations, improve the ergonomics of manual labour and thereby
the health and safety of its workforce, all within the broader context of
responsible forest management and social accountability.
It all begins with the seedling
Shaun Biggs of Ellepot kicked off the
webinar. He said there are four main focus areas when it comes to seedlings:
root quality and integrity, uniform height and branching, sturdiness, and good
"Internationally, studies show that
logistics and planting costs can be reduced by up to 40%, simply by switching
from plastic inserts and trays to FSC-certified degradable paper pots," he
advantages of the Ellepot system include faster root development because the
paper pots are designed to maximise airflow, uniform rooting and encourages air pruning. The density of the growth
medium in the paper pots produces healthier plants with natural root
architecture," Biggs explained.
"Paper pots are ideal for mechanised
planters because it reduces transplant shock caused by poor handling of the
plants and reduces mortality to less than 5%. Productivity increases because
the plants are transplanted faster with less timewasting, which helps you save
between 20% and 30% on costs."
Keep it simple
Sean Mackenzie of Silvix Forestry said
modernisation could take different forms. "We need to remember that
modernisation is not just about expensive machines. We also need to look at basic
factors that can make a difference and that are achievable by smaller growers."
He explained how communication and
observation could lead to ideas of seemingly small innovations that have a
discernible impact on the goals of silviculture. Mackenzie presented examples
of hand tools that increase productivity. One example was how the addition of a
hand-held three-metre aluminium pole fitted with nozzles transforms the person
walking and wearing a Husqvarna motorised knapsack into an efficient
pre-emergent fertiliser or herbicide broadcast spray applicator.
"Multi-skilling and teamwork are
essential," he said. "By changing attachments, one multi-skilled
person using a knapsack can plant seedlings, apply water, fertiliser and herbicides,
or be a firefighter."
Mackenzie discussed the importance of
matching herbicides to the correct container and applicator. He also described
the developments in and new formulations of fertiliser and herbicide chemicals.
Helgaard Steenkamp of Novelquip Forestry
explained how digitisation and telematics enable precision silviculture.
"Our GPS enabled technologies ensure
that foresters achieve consistent, accurate and repeatable planting results and
optimal land use. It also streamlines silviculture planning and production
control processes, analysis and reporting."
In their presentations, Da Costa and Prof Guerra
referred to the effectiveness of Novelquip's pitting head and fully mechanised
planter. "The pitting head is a great unit and develops fantastic pits.
Our planting staff don't want to work without it because their hands are not
exposed to splinters, chemicals and water," explained Da Costa.
Steenkamp explained how Novelquip's machine
management system (MMS) accommodates all aspects of plantation establishment,
from planning to operations to reporting. "It saves the costs of inputs
and increases productivity. The GPS guides the operator to planned planting
location and records the accrual coordinates of every seedling. This reduces
redundant non-value-adding movement in the plantation and generates
intelligence to optimise management," he said.
"Our unique fully integrated
technology is what foresters need to get work done smarter, faster and more
efficiently over the full rotation. It also enables future precision
innovations such as autonomous re-irrigation, fertilisation and harvesting. It
Is compatible with other mechanised forestry solutions and can be fitted to any
Jacob Zimbodza presented the progress with
his MSc research on re-establishing eucalyptus plantations. He is examining the
effects of pit preparation techniques and slash management on pit quality,
seedling survival, initial growth, and operational productivity.
"I compared the possible impact of
manual, motor-manual and fully mechanised pitting techniques on productivity
(pits per hour) and pit density (pits per hectare) at re-establishment,"
he said. "I also examined the effects on quality of the pitting tools used
during manual, motor-manual and fully mechanised pitting."
To burn or not to burn slash is a debate in
South Africa, but no longer in Brazil where controlled burning is banned.
Zimbodza said the control of harvesting residues is imperative. "The more
residues in a plantation, the higher the risk of wildfires destroying the
plantations, and it impacts heavily on re-establishment processes and
Zimbodza's findings confirm that fully
mechanised pitting is more productive than manual and motor-manual pitting
Nicky Gwende's presentation looked at
silviculture from a forestry contractor's perspective. He said silviculture
processes are dependent on a high-level and compartment operations planning,
and here drones play an essential part in mapping the terrain. "It is
essential to know and understand the capability and productivity factors of
your machinery and equipment and to match it precisely to sites. You then need
to monitor productivity daily," he said.
Gwende said contractors are dependent on
their skilled operators and competent operational and support staff. "You
need to keep your team informed, and the best way to do this is through visual
and transparent management," he advised.
"You also need to work closely with
your client and develop a mutual understanding of compartment operations
planning because it impacts on your pricing model. There needs to be a joint
approach to research, development and implementation of technologies and
innovation. Joint measurement and evaluation are essential."
The decision by a large corporate company
like Mondi to modernise its silviculture practices was driven by the need to
remain a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) accredited internationally
competitive low-cost producer of pulp.
"Our move to silviculture modernisation
wasn't a knee-jerk reaction. We didn't say we need to do this because everybody
else is doing it," Da Costa said. Mondi's analysis of its workforce trends
and the safety performance of its silviculture operations convinced it that
innovation was the way forward.
"Modernisation can range from the versatile
hand tools that Sean Mackenzie described, to Novelquip's fully mechanised system.
You can't apply mechanisation to every site because the conditions vary
considerably," he explained.
"Also, if you take the cost of modern
machines in South Africa, you cannot limit it to one contractor or one area.
You have to think about exploiting the most appropriate science and technology
and spread it across your landscape."
Mondi now has two silviculture focus areas
or "establishment suites". A de-stumping, pitting, pre-plant
spraying, planting, blanking and fertilising suite for slopes up to 20%, and
another for slopes greater than 20%.
"Fire prevention and firefighting are
areas of silviculture that need more attention. Poor fuel load management is
the greatest threat," said Da Costa.
"A benchmark visit to Australia in
2014 influenced us a great deal. We worked with ANCO and designed modular,
standardised firefighting equipment and equipped our vehicles with thermal
curtains and auto-reels," he explained.
"In addition, we have introduced three
compressed air foam (CAF) units. These include a double cab tender, designed for
small, highly-trained firefighting proto-teams."
Da Costa's closing remarks summarise how
far South Africa has come in silviculture modernisation. "We made greater
gains from 2012 until now than we ever did in the previous 30 years. Innovation
cannot come from a bunch of technical propeller heads; it has to come from
foresters, contractors, multi-skilled workers and highly trained supervisors.
It must be all-encompassing."
WoodSA & Timber Times