Me chame no WhatsApp Agora!

Eduardo Moré de Mattos e Arthur Vrechi

Director of Sustainability and Director of Technology at Geplant


How to move towards a broader and more systemic vision?

Historically, forest quality has always been associated with precision in carrying out silvicultural prescriptions, measuring the operation's ability to comply with procedures, such as whether the distance between rows and holes is within a reasonable range, whether the preparation depth is within the limit , between others. In short, the focus has always been greater on the process.

However, how can we infer whether these actions and prescriptions are ensuring that the forest reaches the desired productivity? And, going further, how do we determine what level of productivity to achieve? Let's take advantage of the following example to illustrate these questions.

Case 1: The recommendation was to use 1,111 trees per hectare. However, after planting, it was observed that there were, in fact, 1,250 trees per hectare. After 30 days, the reported mortality was 5%. Plot failed the quality control.
Case 2: The recommendation was strictly implemented, 1,111 trees per hectare. After 30 days, 0% of failures were pointed out. Operational excellence verified by the quality measurement mechanisms.

One field next to the other, same soil, same clone, same conditions. Which one would you choose to be the productivity champion? It is clear that we cannot simplify complex processes that way and that involve an infinity of factors, such as the availability of seedlings, operational capacity, degree of professionalization, pests, water deficit, etc. But the provocation is valid for reflecting on whether we are adopting the best criteria when measuring forest quality.

Our intention here is to invite the forester to reflect on the processes and take back the reins of forestry thinking about how trees grow, considering quality also from the perspective of the product.

1. Quality of the process versus Quality of the product: We understand that, as or more important than the process, is the quality of the product, which, in our case, is a well-formed, resilient forest that will guarantee an efficient production of wood or other forest products. Generally, we start from the premise that the excellence of the operations will guarantee the quality of the product. But this is not always valid, and this is precisely where the opportunities for earnings are.

However, there has always been a challenge in this matter. Traditionally, the indicator used to assess product quality is productivity itself, the Average Annual Increment. It so happens that the Average Annual Increment is not comparable under different conditions, that is, between the process (forestry) and the product (wood) is the production environment (soil, topography, climate). And it is precisely the variation in production environments that does not allow inferences of cause and effect between process and product. The influence of the production environment needs to be considered and weighed.

One solution is to adopt a relative rather than an absolute product quality indicator such as the Average Annual Increment. However, relativizing the Annual Average Increment necessarily involves another challenge: establishing a dynamic productivity target (for each field and rotation).

2. Target (or Achievable) Productivity: Establishing target productivity is a challenge frequently encountered in our conversations with industry professionals. Although we are all feeling the climate changes, the productivity of the previous rotation is still adopted as a guide. In other cases, the target is the maximum Average Annual Increment ever recorded in the past, empirical opinions from specialists or the infamous productivity of the spreadsheet, which no one knows for sure where it came from, but always comes before the project materializes and remains for the forester “make give”.

The fact is that it is essential to have a robust, well-defined and dynamic process to determine the target productivity of forest management. And not only to generate a relative indicator of product quality, as mentioned above, but it is the basis of effective and responsible forestry planning.

Here it is interesting to introduce a relevant concept, from the theory of Yield Gaps : when we talk about efficient production, we need to evaluate the quality of the product not only by the volume of wood or Average Annual Increment, but by the ratio of how much was produced (Real Productivity) in relation to how much could be produced (Achievable Productivity), given the production environment and ideal handling conditions.

We named this performance ratio the Manejo, an indicator that has the advantage of being standardized and allows comparing different conditions of climate, soil, ages, planting times, etc. In general, we have found opportunities to gain around 20% with actions to increase performance of management.

As complex as this all seems, today we have tools and databases that allow us to evolve, thanks to a dedicated scientific community and computational advances. We adopted Yield Gaps theory, ecophysiological modeling, remote sensing, statistics, geographic mapping and technology to solve this “puzzle”. These were the tools we chose, but it is not the only approach, there are several others.

3. Measure to manage: As the management motto says, what is not measured is not managed. However, it is essential to have a critical review of quality controls. Are we measuring what really matters? Which deviations are really acceptable? What are the critical processes and their impact on productivity? These questions have been quite common wherever we go.

Many of these answers can be found in observational studies, analyzing the relationships between process and product mentioned above, after all, plantations are a true open-air laboratory. This allows us to more fully explore our rich forest inventory bases, identify, quantify and prioritize actions on management gaps and advance towards broader and more systemic forest quality management.

4. Self-regulation and continuous improvement (the soup story): Finding non-conformities in the post-operation is important, but enabling strategies to remedy deviations, especially in operations that do not allow corrections (soil preparation, for example), should be the focus. Today, there are embedded technological solutions that generate alerts and allow adjustments in real time, to ensure planting alignment, dosage control, application rate and overlapping spraying, among others.

As we learned from a great master in the forest sector: “The soup can be well seasoned, prepared with the best ingredients and by the best cook in the world, but if it is served cold, it will be horrible!”. That is, it is not enough to measure and only then confirm compliance or not. This generates distance and friction between the operational teams (who does), research, planning (who talks about how they do it) and quality (who measures what has been done). For us, the focus should be much greater on self-regulation and continuous improvement than on auditing.

Another important aspect is the relationships in forestry outsourcing. It is necessary to think together about investment for improvements and to strengthen partnership relationships. We believe that only when there is, in fact, the formation of teams (and not teams), with a focus on the results of the forest, are the best results expressed. Finally, it is easy to conclude that the greatest technology to be worked on to guarantee forest quality is found in human aspects and in their interdependence relationships.