Sweden: home of Elmia and cut-to-length harvesting systems

September 13, 2013

With Elmia Wood having taken place in early June again this year, I thought it appropriate to select Sweden as the diary topic for this issue. Elmia takes place every four years in the south of Sweden and is the largest live demonstration of logging equipment in the world.

by Michal Brink / Forestry Solutions / michal@abtraining.biz / www.forestrysolutions.net

Cut to length forwarder used for extraction of logs.

For centuries, the Swedes were merchant seamen who were well known for their far-reaching trade. In the 9th century, Nordic Vikings raided and ravaged the European continent as far as the Black and Caspian Seas. There is evidence of the Vikings reaching the coast of North America in the 11th century. This early sailing culture of the Vikings was only made possible through the use of wood to build the Viking ships that sailed the seas – reflecting the importance of forests in their livelihood since the very early ages of Sweden.

In more recent times, Sweden created a successful model of democratic socialism because of the unique way in which Sweden's labour leaders, politicians, and classes cooperated during the early development period of Sweden's social democracy. Because Sweden's socialist leaders chose a moderate, reformist political course with broad-based public support in the early stages of Swedish industrialisation, Sweden escaped the severe extremist challenges and political and class divisions that plagued many European countries that attempted to develop social democratic systems after 1911. This allowed Swedish social democrats to create one of the most successful social democratic systems in the world, including both a welfare state and extensive protections of civil liberties.

Forestry in Sweden
Most foresters in the world are already exposed to Swedish science in their early study years through the work of Carl Linnaeus, who lived in the 18th century. He is the world-renowned Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, who is known as the father of modern taxonomy, and is also considered one of the fathers of modern ecology.

Sweden is truly a country of forests, with about 60% of its land area afforested. With the forests being such a valuable national asset, forestry has a history in Sweden of well over a century. Ever since the latter part of the 19th century, the forest sector has been of prime importance to the nation's economy.

In spite of the enormous quantities of timber extracted throughout the decades, affording a significant contribution to Sweden's prosperity, the forests of today contain almost twice as much wood as they did at the beginning of the last century.

Sweden has a total land area of about 41 million hectares, consisting of 22 million hectares of productive forest land. Spruce and pine are by and large the predominant species in Swedish forests. These two species account for more than 80% of the timber stock. In northern Sweden, pine is the most common species whereas spruce, mixed with some birch, dominates in southern Sweden. Due to effective forest management, the timber stock in Sweden has increased by more than 60% in the last century, now totalling 3 billion m3. Growth has been most rapid in southern Sweden where forests in the early twentieth century were sparse and in poor condition. In recent years, the annual cut has been between 85 and 90 million m3, whereas the annual increment amounts to approximately to 120 million m3.

Swedish forests are a significant carbon sink. Some 3 billion tonnes of carbon are bound in the standing timber and as much as 6 billion tonnes in the forest soil.

The basis of Swedish forest policy is co-operation between the State and forest owners for the purpose of achieving sustainable forestry in the long term. This requires a balanced approach to economic, environmental, cultural and social interests in the forest. The Swedish Forest Agency is the national authority responsible for matters relating to the forest. It strives to ensure that the nation's forests are managed in such a way as to yield an abundant and sustainable harvest while at the same time preserving biodiversity. The Agency also strives to increase awareness of the forest's significance, including its value for outdoor recreation. Its most important tasks are to support the industry on forest-related matters and supervise compliance with the Forest Act. The State is very supportive and proud of its forest resources and forest industry and avoids any actions that may marginalise or undermine the industry.

About half of Swedish forests are privately owned, while the remaining 50% is equally divided between public and corporate ownership. The ownership of forests in Sweden varies between regions. There are 355 000 forest owners in Sweden and they supply about 60% of the timber used in industry. The average size of a forest holding in Sweden is 45 hectares.

The forestry business is of decisive importance for the Swedish national economy. It is more important than in any other EU country, apart from Finland. The Swedish forest industry accounts for about 12% of industry's employment, turnover and value-added. In 2007, forest-based products exports accounted for 12% of the total Swedish exports.

From a global perspective, Sweden is an industrial superpower in wood processing. The country is the fourth largest exporter of pulp, third largest exporter of paper and the second largest exporter of sawn timber. Sweden's pulp and paper industry is the third largest in Europe and it supplies more than one tenth of the demand for paper in the EU countries. The wood processing industry produces some 17 million cubic metres of sawn timber and 12 million tons of pulp a year. The production of paper and cardboard amounts to about 11 million tons, of which 2.5 million tons are newsprint, 3 million tons are printing and writing paper and 6 million tons are other paper and cardboard.

The huge industry and the developments described above reflect the birth, development and consolidation of cut-to-length harvesting technology in Scandinavia (harvesters and forwarders). The complete harvesting system in Sweden is moulded around cut-to-length machines. Prominent past and present machine manufacturers such as FMG, Valmet, Skogsjan and Loglift originated in Scandinavia. Today, they form an integrated segment of the global machine manufacturers' product range and have led to the full mechanisation of forestry operations. Mechanisation has largely contributed to the seven-fold increase in average productivity, expressed in terms of m3/man-day, since the early 1960s. Its effect on the labour force was dramatic. Some 50 years ago, there were 150 000 fully employed workers in Swedish forestry, while in 1997, it had dropped to less than 25 000.

Sweden's renewable energy
Today, 45% of Sweden's energy supply (electricity, heating and fuel) comes from renewable energy, which is more than in most EU countries. The reason for this is the large share of hydropower and biofuels in the energy system. Since early 2009, there has been an EU directive to promote the development of renewable energy sources. Based on the directive, Sweden has set a target to increase its share of renewable energy to 50% by 2020.

Sweden consumes a substantial amount of electricity per capita (16 000kWh per person per year). Only a few countries have higher electricity consumption. Yet Swedish carbon emissions are low compared to other countries. The average Swede releases 5.3 tons of carbon dioxide per year into the atmosphere, compared with the EU average of eight tons and the US average of 19 tons.

The reason for this low emission rate is that about 85% of electricity in Sweden comes from nuclear power and hydroelectric power, neither of which generates carbon emissions. Cogeneration, or combined heat and power (CHP) plants account for a further 12% of the electricity output in Sweden, and these are mainly powered by forest biofuels. The remaining portion of electricity, about 2%, comes from wind power. The demand for wood-based fuels is expected to increase and it will constitute an important source of income for forest owners in the future.

Forest conservation
The amount of protected forests in Sweden amounts to about 1.9 million hectares, where minor human interventions are allowed. Only 0.3% of all forests in Sweden are fully protected. About 1.2 million ha of forest land is voluntarily set aside by the owners for conservation purposes. There are as much as 1 800 red-listed species in Swedish forests.

The indigenous people of the Swedish forests
The Sami are the indigenous people of northern Scandinavia from the area Lapland, stretching across Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. The Swedish part of Lapland includes most of northern Sweden. The Sami are about 70 000 in total, 17 000 of whom are Swedish. About 3 000 Swedish Sami still rely on reindeer herding for their living. Their traditional way of living is characterised by close contact with nature, following the path of their reindeer between summer grazing lands in the mountains and winter grazing lands in the forests. Reindeer herding has been documented as early as 800 AD, but today, the Sami no longer exercise a nomadic lifestyle, having adapted to the more traditional Swedish lifestyle. However, reindeer herding remains a traditional part of the Sami cultural identity. Sami still follow the reindeer when migrating from summer to winter grazing lands using more modern herding methods such as the use of snow mobiles.

Sadly, there is a conflict that has arisen between small private land owners in the north of Sweden and the Sami, with the landowners claiming that the reindeer are causing damage to the pine plantations, rubbing their antlers against young trees. The conflict has led to several cases of litigation between the groups.

Forest certification
Eighty percent of the Swedish forest land is certified under either the FSC or under the PEFC certification scheme. Under FSC certification, Sami people are to be given the right to practice their traditional reindeer herding, as stipulated under principle three of the FSC standard.

Manual planting operation in Sweden.


Published in June 2013

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