Dr Andrew Morris

Following their re-structuring in 2018, and the appointment of a new Board and CEO, the Institute for Commercial Forestry Research (ICFR) team is energised, motivated and focused on providing research and related services to the forestry industry to support sustainable forest management in southern Africa.

The re-structure has enabled the ICFR team to focus on fewer, bigger projects tailored to meet the specific needs of project funders, while still maintaining capacity for offering additional services for internal and external customers, including:-
• Laboratory services providing reliable measurement of plant, soil and forest product properties.
• Spatial technology services tailored to meet the needs of plantation forests.
• Production of commercial improved eucalyptus orchard seed.

Dr Andrew Morris, who served as Acting Director of ICFR after the retirement of Colin Dyer in mid-2018, has been appointed CEO of the team which numbers 25 people, including researchers and support staff (down from a staff complement of 50 people prior to the restructure). The new Board comprises just six people representing key stakeholders, namely:
Rob Pallett – Chairperson (formerly Sappi)
Dr Andrew Morris – CEO
Dr Ronald Heath (FSA)
Prof Albert Modi (Deputy Vice Chancellor of the School of Agriculture, UKZN)
Renny Madula (DEFF)
Craig Norris (NCT).

The re-structure was necessitated by changes in the R&D funding model within the forest sector in terms of which baseline funding from FSA ended in June 2018.

“This required the ICFR to undertake a complete revision of research priorities and to secure research projects that support the needs of specific funding consortia,” explained Andrew.

ICFR currently has eight research projects with a minimum three-year funding cycle. Each project has a dedicated research leader who spends most of his/her time on the project. The projects are designed to meet the specific needs of the funding consortia, and the outcomes of these research projects are for the exclusive use of the funders.

The latest addition to their portfolio of projects is an exciting project aimed at improving key attributes of mimosa extract produced from wattle bark and processed at the NTE and UCL factories. This project brings the ICFR full circle, as it started out back in 1947 as the Wattle Research Institute.

A key tool in this research project is the cutting-edge near-infrared scanner that gives the ICFR research team the ability to rapidly analyse organic material using reflected light spectra. These are like fingerprints which can be used to analyse the compositional variation of individual trees. This info will feed into the clonal breeding programme designed to provide wattle growers with planting material that has good growth and timber qualities, tolerance for frost and wattle rust – and good quality bark for tannin extraction.

This kind of work was very slow and time-consuming back in the early days of wattle research, but with the scanning equipment now available in the ICFR lab it is relatively quick and cost-effective, explains Andrew.

Another exciting research activity on the go at the ICFR involves testing the use of drones to assess canopy damage caused by pests and diseases or severe weather events. This is part of the Eucalypt forest protection project.

Image taken with drone of ICFR eucalypt canopy pests trial in the Midlands and derived multispectral vegetation indices developed to quantify and locate canopy damage caused by insect pests. This project is done in collaboration with Sappi.

A key aspect of ICFR’s work involves collaboration with other research institutes and universities, including FABI, the University of Pretoria, University of KZN, Stellenbosch University, Nelson Mandela University and the University of the Free State. The research projects also provide opportunities for involvement of post graduate students engaged in Masters and Doctorate studies.

Summary of ICFR Projects
1. Wattle tree improvement
Clients: NCT, NTE, TWK, UCL
Project leader: Dr Julian Chan

Provides growers with genetically improved planting stock. Current focus includes frost hardiness, wattle rust tolerance, higher yields. The project provides the entire improved orchard seed supply in SA.

2. Eucalypt base populations
Clients: Mondi, NCT, Sappi, TWK.
Project leader: Nuveshen Naidoo

The project involves managing a broad base of eucalypt species to conserve the genetic resource and make it available for hybrid and advanced generation tree breeding.

3. Eucalypt hybrid development
Clients: NCT, TWK
Project leader: Joel Cele

Provides tested hybrid clone planting options that offer known tolerance to biotic and abiotic production risks, improved yields and suitability for multiple roundwood markets.

4. Eucalypt forest protection
Clients: Mondi, NCT, Sappi, TWK
Project leader: Dr Bernice Sivparsad

Quantifies the impact of various pests and pathogens on eucalyptus crops and develops cost effective management responses to mitigate the risks. Current research is addressing the impact of Leptocybe gall wasp, whitegrub related losses at planting, and the cause and mitigation of post planting mortality occurring with some eucalypt species.

Spatial and temporal changes in occurrence of (A) Leptocybe invasa , (B) Gonipterus sp. 2 , (C) T. destructans, (D) G. brimblecombei: 2018 – 2019.

5. Sirex control
Clients: DEFF, FSA
Project leader: Phillip Croft

Sirex woodwasp is an important pest of pine and the ICFR continues to contribute to the key control requirements of monitoring and biocontrol releases.

6. Baboon damage impact
Clients: Sappi, Safcol, York
Project leader: Dr Ilaria Germishuizen

The project seeks to determine the extent of damage caused by baboons in Mpumalanga plantations.

7. Multi-rotation site resilience
Clients: Mondi, Sappi
Project leader: Nkosinathi Kaptein
The aim is to identify sites where soils cannot sustain nutrient supply across successive rotations. It involves accelerated nutrient removal experiments and monitoring changes across rotations.

8. Wattle tannin properties
Clients: UCL, NTE, Department of Science & Innovation
Project leader: Dr Richard Burgdorf

The project aims to improve the quality of Mimosa extract, which is the condensed tannin obtained from wattle bark. This is an important product used in the leather tanning and related industries.

*First published in SA Forestry magazine, March 2020

Related article: Leaner, more focused ICFR



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