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Fabrício Amaral Poloni

General Manager of Operations of ArcelorMittal BioFlorestas


A key turning point in the history of the forest sector

I have been working in the forestry sector for twenty years and I see the moment we live with great enthusiasm and optimism. I will share below some of my views on the sector and a perspective on the modernization of the Brazilian forest system. The forest production chain contributes significantly to the Brazilian economy, being competitive at a global level, shipping its products to all continents.

In 2020, the sector's exports reached almost 10 billion dollars, representing about 5% of the share of total national exports. Internally, it contributes to the decentralized economic development in the country, having generated 12 billion reais in federal taxes, more than 2 million direct and indirect jobs in a long and branched production chain around the 10 million hectares planted in Brazil.

The Brazilian forest system is composed of a series of activities that form a complex productivity chain, some that have evolved more and others less in recent years. For the wood that supplies the forest-based industry, many steps are necessary, from the genetic improvement of the species, the production of seedlings in nurseries, soil preparation and planting, forest fertilization, pest control, forest harvesting, among other ancillary activities that assist in forest management.

The development of the planted forest sector had a strong contribution from Navarro de Andrade at the beginning of the 20th century, but it was in the 1970s, through tax incentives for reforestation, that there was a strong growth of forest massifs, mainly with exotic essences of the Eucalyptus genera. and Pinus. During this period, there was a search for technology, knowledge, and, thus, the first schools of forestry engineering began to emerge.

Incentives also emerged for research focused on finding genetic materials that would confer productivity and quality in wood production. At that time, commercial plantations used seeds with clods of soil, operational activities were mostly carried out manually, harvesting with chainsaws, forwarding wood with mules, and very low forest productivity compared to today's figures.

There was an intense movement to import seeds, mainly from Eucalyptus and Pinus, originating in Australia and Indonesia, mainly, which would later form the genetic basis of the introduced species, enabling great evolution of genetic improvement programs in Brazil. At the end of the 1980s, the end of tax incentives came, and the sector had to reinvent itself.

A new development cycle began there, where the private sector needed to look for ways to modernize the forestry system to meet the demand of an installed industrial park that was growing. An important advance for the sector came in the 1990s, when commercial cloning used for Eucalyptus was a watershed in forest productivity and in the quality of wood produced in Brazil, a technique that is now widespread among forestry producers and reaches 98% of Eucalyptus plantations in Brazil.

At the same time, biotechnology began its development, seeking genetic materials adapted to climate conditions, soils, wood application, with a focus on expanding our country's competitive advantage in the production of fast-growing forests. The modernization of equipment used in Brazilian forestry operations is also taking place, taking as a reference the strong evolution that took place in forest harvesting and forwarding, which began in the Northern Hemisphere and introduced in Brazil at the end of the last century.

However, unlike the revolution that took place in agriculture, with high-performance equipment customized to the crops, in forestry, at the beginning of this century, we still operated with agricultural equipment adapted to forestry, which resulted in an operation that was very demanding of manual labor constructions.

This began to change at the end of the last decade, with the development of specialized equipment with a high level of mechanization and automation. Some activities were further developed, such as subsoiling using line marking using technology embedded in the machines; and others less, such as the planting of forest seedlings. The use of the drone has also been an advance in some operations.

A survey on the level of mechanization in Brazilian forestry carried out by the Instituto de Pesquisa e Estudos Florestais was published in 2021. The picture (2020) is that the general level of mechanization in forestry of companies that grow Eucalyptus was approximately 50%, which is not has changed a lot since 2018, according to criteria established in the survey, covering soil preparation, planting, fertilization, leaf-cutting ant control, weed competition control and irrigation.

However, it is important to highlight the progress made in some of these operations in the last two years. Planting advanced 9%, reaching close to 10% in 2020. Soil preparation advanced 19 pp and reached close to 100% of the level of mechanization in the same period. In forest harvesting and forwarding, there was an enormous advance compared to the past with manual and semi-mechanized operations, in terms of productivity, fuel consumption, and the ability to access areas above 40 degrees of inclination.

A feller buncher, for example, has the capacity to harvest around 600 trees per hour today; harvesters and forwarders with a winch system are capable of exploring, with safety and high productivity, plantations in hard-to-reach places. Much has evolved and modernized in the Brazilian forest system, but there is still a long way to go. We have great challenges ahead.

A shortage of skilled labor in the field, not to mention the high cost. We live on a planet with ongoing climate change, without going beyond the advancement in competitiveness of other players at a domestic and global level. On the other hand, we also have an opportunity in our hands, to continuously improve the sector's performance and monetize the value that the sector adds in its core activity since always, capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for the formation of wood.

Faced with this opportunity, I believe that we have some fronts to advance even further, such as the level of mechanization of silvicultural operations, such as the fight against ants, planting and irrigation. Another important front is biotechnology. We expect to have clones adapted to the impacts arising from climate change, more productive, less sensitive to pests and more customized for the industrial processes that demand them; and, who knows, advance in the controversial transgenics of forest genetic materials.

We still have a lot of room for the use of satellite information and artificial intelligence, whether in forestry planning and optimization systems, or in the automation of silvicultural operations. Anyway, we've made progress, but we can do much more! I see the moment with great enthusiasm, a turning point in the history of the Brazilian forestry sector.