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Reginaldo Gonçalves Mafia

Suzano's Forest Management Technology Manager


Planting quality as a lever to increase productivity

We are experiencing yet another cycle of low wood supply. On the other hand, demand should increase in the coming years, considering the new pulp mill projects, especially in the Midwest region of Brazil. To put even more pressure on the forest sector, it has been common to observe productivity problems linked to climate variations, the emergence of new pests and diseases and the expansion of plantations to regions with less knowledge and with greater challenges to reach high productivity.

In addition to the low supply of wood, another worrying factor is the low availability of land, which, due to the more rapid advance of agriculture, has increasingly limited the expansion of the forestry base. Considering these restrictive factors, be it an increase in the forest base or environmental pressures, it is worth emphasizing the importance of achieving a high level of efficiency in forestry productivity, which depends on several factors, as shown in the highlighted figure.

In general, when looking for alternatives to increase productivity, two main courses of action usually appear. The first consists of products arising from genetic improvement programs, that is, new clones and their correct allocation, considering the genotype-environment interaction. The second alternative consists of seeking to optimize forestry and management recommendations, including, mainly, planting spacing, fertilization, soil preparation, weed control, among others.

However, the quality of plantations, especially in the forest formation phase, complements the fundamental triad to reach and maintain high productivity. It is known that low quality at this stage can compromise the gains arising from the two other routes. Here, we can understand forest formation as all the planning activities, inputs and services necessary to carry out the preparation of the area, planting and maintenance until the second year of the forest. This phase, when well executed, is a key factor.

There are basically two ways of evaluating the quality of forest formation. The first is indirect and consists of assessments of the quality of inputs and operational activities. Assuming that the technical recommendations are adequate and adjusted to the planting and cultivation conditions, methodologies can be used and indicators managed for dose, intensity, time of application, among other variables that can impact the quality of the planting.

The other way is to directly evaluate the product, that is, the resulting planting itself. In this case, uniformity, growth and health parameters, among others, can be evaluated as benchmarking measures and adjustments in quality controls, as well as to estimate the productive potential of plantations. In general, the impact of poor quality on forest formation is undersized and often goes unnoticed. There is a vast amount of research results demonstrating the isolated effect of factors that impact quality and, consequently, forest productivity.

But, in practice, these factors usually act together and are responsible for variations in productivity, even under uniform cultivation conditions. This is easily assessed when comparing inventory information from uniform statements. In these situations, it is common to observe large variations, even when dealing with plantations of the same genetic material, in an environment of uniform soil and climate and under the same silvicultural management. In these situations, it can be inferred that part of this variation can be explained by differences in the quality of forest formation stages.

Assuming that quality is a key factor in achieving high yields, what limits its exploitation at the maximum level in practice? Despite being aware of its importance and the existence of several tools for evaluation, monitoring and management, as wood production is a complex process, several factors end up influencing it. Notably, these factors act more strongly in atypical situations.

Just as an example of this, in large forestry expansion projects, in new regions, limitations begin with the low supply of labor, especially qualified, whether for hiring or service providers. Additionally, in these situations, there is a limitation in the supply of good quality seedlings, adapted clones, among other essential inputs. The sum of these and other factors ends up limiting the achievement of high quality standards.

Finally, it is logically essential to invest in process improvements, increase the granularity of information and the accuracy of recommendations in the use of artificial intelligence, as well as technological innovations to increase forestry productivity. But, without guaranteeing the quality of execution, practically the gains arising from these initiatives are not used in practice.