Precision Forestry in focus
The on-going series of International Precision Forestry symposia presented by Stellenbosch University every fourth year has become a recognised forum for scientists and practitioners from around the world to share their research, knowledge, experience, and new ideas with the wider forestry community.
The 2017 Symposium, with the theme ‘Towards optimising value in the bio-economy from data-driven decisions’, was hosted by the Department of Forest and Wood Science and the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) and presented at Stellenbosh in February. There were two days of oral presentations and a field excursion.
The success of the 2017 Precision Forestry Symposium is attributable to the high quality of the science behind the presentations delivered, the status of the delegates attending from 16 countries, and the current and continued interest in promoting Precision Forestry within the forest industry locally and abroad. Thirty-six high quality oral presentations were delivered, covering four key themes:
• Precision measurements and modelling of quality and yield;
• Utilising precision data for efficient forest management and operations;
• Optimised logistics – from seed to product;
• Operations research – optimisation, heuristics and simulation.
A feature of the 2017 Precision Forestry Symposium was the diversity of the topics presented. These presentations touched on countless aspects of the industry, and demonstrated a variety of innovations as well as challenges faced by forestry internationally. This allowed delegates the opportunity to enhance their knowledge of current happenings within the global forestry community, and receive insight on numerous emerging ideas with the potential to be incorporated into local industries.
One of the main topics covered by presenters was spatial forest mapping and modelling using a variety of technology and software. These included use of remote sensing, LiDAR (terrestrial and air-borne), use of computer vision and robotics for simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), and drone imaging for aerial forest mapping. Other popular topics presented included, growth and yield modelling, wood quality assessment and prediction in response to environmental variation, supply chain modelling and optimisation, and decision support optimisation for use in areas such as wood supply transport, operation planning and road management.
The definition of ‘precision forestry’ was further refined during this meeting as ‘the use of high technology sensing, data management and analytical tools to support site-specific, economic, environmental, and sustainable decision-making and actions along the forestry value chain.’
In simple terms, precision forestry provides the tools to make good decisions, to obtain highly repeatable measurements, to take accurate actions, and provide for processes to initiate, cultivate and harvest trees, as well as enhance bio-diversity and other environmental resources.
The types of tools include tools for measurement, monitoring, and data management. Measurement tools such as LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), RS (remote sensing) and IFSAR (Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar) study forest canopy characteristics, and assist in developing highly accurate digital elevation models. Monitoring tools including GPS (Global Positioning System) and INS (Inertial Navigation Systems) are used for navigation under forest canopies for purposes such as electronic mapping and CT scanning (computer-tomography). Geographic Information Systems, Radio Frequency Identification, web-based data management (harvesting systems benchmarking) and Integrated Equipment Management Systems are data management tools which have recently been used. Typically, spatial optimization and scenario simulations, information and communication technology-based operations research techniques (simulations, network analysis), and web based applications are used to support decision support systems, multi-criteria decision analysis and evaluations of wood quality using wood properties.
Three outcomes of the symposium stand out:
• The Department of Forest and Wood Science is clearly working in the forefront of the international scientific community and is justified in continuing to establish precision forestry as a research focus area for integrated land-use management, biomass and biofuels, and wood quality. These fields were strongly endorsed at the symposium.
• Confirmation from stakeholders that there is interest in Stellenbosch University continuing to host the Precision Forestry Symposium every four years; the next meeting is scheduled for 2021.
• Precision forestry continues to be widely accepted by the scientific and forestry communities as a recognized field of study. This outcome is supported by the number of new participants, particularly South Africans, from various backgrounds and institutions in this year’s symposium.
Stellenbosch University would like to sincerely thank the following sponsors of the event; SA Forestry Magazine, Southern African Institute of Forestry, Forestry South Africa, Husqvarna, Mondi, Sappi, STIHL, Trimble, MTO, PG Bison, MicroForest, York Timbers, Wood Southern Africa, and Timber Times. The organiser and host would also like to thank the Scientific Committee of the symposium for developing the theme and sub-themes and reviewing abstract submissions. And lastly thanks to the delegates attending and contributing so positively to the outcome of the Symposia.
Local perspectives on Precision Forestry
There were a number of notable presentations from the South African perspective at the Precision Forestry Symposium, among an array of high level presentations from the international delegates.
Ilaria Germishuizen of ICFR gave a presentation on forest pest and disease risk modeling which allows for improved management of forests.
The increasing global trade in plants as well as climate change has resulted in a huge increase in pests and diseases threatening forests and plantations around the world, including in South Africa.
Ilaria’s research is aimed at producing risk maps which provide accurate information about where the damage from specific pests and diseases is likely to occur, the extent of the damage, and how climate change is likely to affect the spread of these damaging pests and diseases.
This information provides plantation and forest managers with crucial info for managing current operations and planning for the future.
Thomas Seifert of Stellenbosch University provided info on the applications and prospects for the use of LiDAR and drones to develop an improved forest inventory. He concluded that Terrestrial LiDAR can provide detailed below canopy information, but it requires intensive field work, so cannot be applied to large areas.
Drones can provide improved above canopy and forest structure info at a fraction of the cost of terrestrial LiDAR, but do not reach the same level of accuracy and detail. Both technologies have matured and their use for forest inventories is warranted, he concluded.
Capturing weather data
Mark Norris-Rogers of Mondi gave an interesting presentation on Mondi’s programme of deploying automatic weather stations to improve the company’s access to weather data.
He said that the 2014-16 drought in South Africa had highlighted the lack of weather-related info available. As a result it was very difficult to quantify the impact that the drought had on tree growth.
In contrast the sugar industry in SA has a dedicated weather monitoring team, and a comprehensive weather monitoring programme in place across the sugar growing areas in SA. This has enabled them to research the impact of weather data on the physiology of cane growth, and to utilise this info for strategic decision-making.
This data is available via a web-service, providing farmers with the info to make critical management decisions in their farming operations.
In 2015 Mondi partnered with the SA Sugar Research Institute (SASRI) to collaborate on the Automatic Weather Station (AWS) programme which involved deploying 29 automated weather stations across Mondi’s land holdings. SASRI manages the programme on Mondi’s behalf.
Through this collaboration, Mondi has gained access to the full SASRI weather database, as well as their expertise and equipment.There is large geographical overlap between sugar and timber, especially in KZN, and so SASRI also benefits from the additional weather station info.
Once sufficient weather data has been collected it is applied to research on the impact of weather cycles on growth and yield across Mondi’s landholdings.
During the field day, Symposium delegates were treated to a scenic drive around the Cape peninsular with stop-offs to view the champion trees at the Arderne Gardens, Newlands Volunteer Fire Service and a presentation on baboons.
*First published in SA Forestry magazine