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Cristiane Aparecida Fioravante Reis

Researcher at Embrapa Florestas


Forest plantations in new frontiers

Co-author: Alessandra da Cunha Moraes-Rangel, Analyst at Embrapa Rice and Beans

In Brazilian forestry sector discussion forums, the most common use of the expression new frontiers has referred to the expansion of forestry plantations, especially to various locations in the Central-West, Northeast, North and extreme South regions of Brazil.

The spatial distribution maps of the main products from forestry plantations, generated from historical series from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, provide a greater understanding of this dynamic (See QR code).

In the new frontiers, on many occasions, the environmental conditions of the plantation sites are quite different from those found in traditional forestry cultivation regions, whether in terms of climate classification, temperature, average annual rainfall, water deficiency, frost, soil types, among others.

These aspects create challenges for forestry production, as the phenotype, for example, wood productivity, of a cultivar is a function of its genotype, the planting environment and the Genotype versus Planting Environment interaction. Brazil is recognized worldwide as a reference in the use of charcoal for steelmaking to replace polluting mineral coal. In 2021, eucalyptus charcoal was responsible for 99.1% of national production from forestry plantations (approximately 6.8 million tons).

Through the historical series, there was an expansion in the spatial distribution and quantity of charcoal produced, especially in the states of Minas Gerais, Goiás, Mato Grosso do Sul and MATOPIBA. The latter is made up of areas that are mostly savannah in the states of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia.

There are Genetic Improvement Programs for Eucalyptus and Corymbia species that are references in the generation of elite cultivar clones for charcoal. As many of these clones have high tolerance to water deficit, they have been successfully cultivated in locations in the Central-West region and MATOPIBA. In the new frontiers, the wood from these clones has been used not only to produce charcoal, but also to obtain firewood and wood for other purposes.

In 2021, 88.4% of firewood from forestry plantations came from eucalyptus (approximately 45.5 million cubic meters), 5.2% from pine and 6.3% from other forest species. Firewood, in the form of “metrinho” or chips, is an extremely necessary raw material in the kilns of ceramic and mining industries, as well as in the industrial processes of the thriving Brazilian agribusiness.

It has been used in the drying and processing of grains, in the boilers of slaughterhouses, dairies and other food industries. The expansion of the spatial distribution of firewood across Brazilian municipalities clearly denotes the march of forestry plantations, especially eucalyptus, towards the Central-West and Northeast regions.

In the publication “Agribusiness Projections: Brazil 2022-2023, 2032-2033”, published by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, with support from Embrapa and other collaborating institutions, a 24.1% growth in national grain production is projected in the next ten years, with soybeans and corn making up more than half of current production, estimated at 313.8 million tons.

In particular, MATOPIBA grain production has increased by 93% in the last ten years, with the prospect of increasing another 37.1% by 2033. An increase in national meat production is also expected: beef (12.4%), pork (23.2%) and chicken (28.1%), as well as in milk production (18.5%) by 2033.

For most of these products, the largest producing states, and their expansion fronts, are on the new frontiers of forestry plantations. This means that there is a strong tendency to increase demand and, consequently, the consumption of firewood. In this sense, there is a huge need for specific eucalyptus cultivars for firewood to be developed in new frontiers to meet this demand.

Much of the strength of eucalyptus wood production in the new frontiers is destined to obtain short fiber cellulose, an important Brazilian export commodity. In 2021, 82% of roundwood for cellulose in Brazil came from eucalyptus and 18% from pine. During the historical series of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, an increase in the spatial distribution and intensity of roundwood production for cellulose is observed, both in traditional regions and also in new frontiers.

In the latter, municipalities stand out, such as Três Lagoas, Ribas do Rio Pardo and Água Clara (northeast region of Mato Grosso do Sul), Imperatriz and Açailândia  MATOPIBA) and, in the extreme south, Rio Grande do Sul. In Brazil, It is estimated that cellulose production will increase by 26.5% by 2033.

In general, Brazilian cellulose and paper companies present Genetic Improvement Programs for Eucalyptus and Corymbia that are very well structured and robust, being references in the generation of high-performance cultivars in terms of wood productivity, tolerance to biotic and abiotic factors, as well as better properties of wood for obtaining cellulose and paper production. However, there are still several challenges in the new frontiers.

As for roundwood for other purposes, there is a significant expansion in the spatial distribution of production to locations in all states in the Central-West region, as well as some states in the North and Northeast regions. Part of this expansion can be credited to the eucalyptus, teak and African mahogany cultures focused on more noble uses of wood, such as civil construction, furniture making, sawmilling and lamination.

The increase in production in traditional areas of eucalyptus and pine cultivation in the Southeast and South regions was also relevant, with pine wood being the highlight with 49% of the total produced. Eucalyptus and other species used in forestry plantations made up 46.8% and 4.2% of production in 2021, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics. In this case, the need for cultivars with production and wood quality more suitable for more noble uses is also pressing.

In the graph of the evolution of the average productivity of eucalyptus in Brazil (1970 to 2021), we can see the enormous progress made over the years, thanks to research, development, innovation and technology transfer actions (Intellectual property and technology transfer).

In the case of locations subjected to intense periods of water deficit, as well as high temperatures, among other environmental conditions, the generation of cultivars and other technologies linked to the improvement of the production system of forest species continue to occupy the center of attention of the productive sector as as a whole, being urgent and fundamental. With regard to Intellectual Property and technology transfer, Embrapa Florestas, together with its partners, has constantly worked in favor of the forestry sector.

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