Growing importance of technology in forestry

November 8, 2018

The Ponsse Scorpion King – an innovative and modern harvester in action.

By Deon van Wyk, ABSA Regional AgriBusiness Manager (email:

There is on-going pressure on farmers and producers to increase productivity, but at the same time to limit the cost factor. Therefore the need to keep up with the latest technology to supply the needs of processing plants and ultimately the end user.

This must also be viewed in the context of the fact that the area planted to timber is unlikely to increase, while local demand is expected to increase at a level higher than that of the domestic growth rate projection. This is why technology will become more important than it was at the turn of the century.

Below are a few technology approaches that could contribute to the growing of the industry:

Improved genetics
Continued research and genetic improvements will support the breeding of trees with uniform wood and higher fiber quality traits which in turn will help reduce energy consumption during harvesting and processing. It also develops trees that are better adapted to climatic conditions and more tolerant to pests and diseases.

GPS and Information Systems
The use of mapping and geographic information systems will assist with the data collected on the ground, through remote sensing, aerial photography, satellite imagery, laser altimetry and radar. This will allow forest managers to easily monitor plantations and model an improved forest plan as well as the evaluation of forest health, erosion trends, land ownership boundaries and roads. Drones can also be used during harvesting, block retention, block layouts and the visualizing of the terrain before planting. Further to this the stand type and density of blocks can be mapped with ease.

Mechanised harvesting
Mechanical harvesting with cut-to-length systems offer economic advantages during the harvesting process. The harvesting process is also much quicker and safer with fewer forest workers on the ground, which should decrease production costs and improve safety. Further to this, soil compaction is also reduced.

The challenges of the forestry environment require us to continually improve the way we produce timber products while minimising the impacts on the limited natural resources.

From a bank’s point of view, it is always better to finance where informed decisions are taken and the latest technology is available to support the process. The production risk and how the risk is mitigated is one of the most important factors, and this is where the latest technology will always support the process.

If you liked this article, read Deon van Wyk's previous article Positive outlook for timber

*First published in SA Forestry magazine, September 2018

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