Ponsse has launched its latest debarking head – the H7 HD Euca – which follows the release of the Ponsse H8 HD Euca. This new powerful harvester head joins an impressive line-up of harvester heads manufactured by Ponsse of Finland.
One of these new H7 HD Euca heads has already been delivered to a leading South African harvesting contractor, Quinton Preen, for use in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.
The Ponsse design engineers said they rely heavily on feedback from key customers to design and manufacture heads that maximise productivity and minimise downtime, and this is the case with the Ponsse H7 HD Euca.
Quinton featured prominently in the recent ‘digital’ launch of the head. He was being interviewed by Chris Odendaal of MTS Parts, who is distributing and supporting all Ponsse forestry equipment in South Africa. Quinton joined his father’s harvesting contracting business in the 1990s, which was originally doing motor-manual felling and debarking. Quinton says they started mechanising their harvesting operations in 2000, and are now working extensively in the Midlands and Zululand coastal areas.
Two years ago they switched to the H7 Euca heads in order to do one-pass harvesting as required by Mondi Forests. Quinton says the H7 Euca was a smaller head and at first he was a bit concerned about its durability. But now two years later he says they are running well and he had no hesitation in acquiring the upgraded H7 HD Euca, which is a toughened, upgraded version of the H7 Euca.
A year ago Quinton said he changed to the casted knife sets on the H7s as they wear better – especially in Zululand where the sandy soils take their toll on harvesting equipment.
“The majority of our inland customers prefer the welded knives in one-pass operations, but in coastal regions where there is a lot of sand with abrasive properties, the special material used in the casted knives is a better option,” said MTS Parts’ Chris Odendaal. “They last an incredibly long time in very tough conditions.
“The H7 HD is really a toughened up head and you can appreciate how sturdy it is built just by looking at it. The engineering was really thought out very well on this head,” said Chris.
He said the upgrades on the H7 HD include a toughened saw box, extra tilt frame support, and a new, heavy duty bearing design.
Other small improvements include the fixed knife pins and other components that have been strengthened.
“Overall we are looking at a head that will be very durable in tough conditions, giving our customers more mechanical availability and that is what our market needs at the moment. These HD heads have been tested extensively in Brazil and we've had nothing but positive feedback,” said Chris.
The Ponsse heads are known to be fast and agile, and Chris says they put very little stress on the carrier machine.
Commented Janne Loponen, harvester head product manager at Ponsse: “This new harvester head has been developed together with our customers, based on their feedback. We wanted to introduce an even more powerful and productive harvester head for Eucalyptus processing that withstands even the most extreme conditions, and we succeeded in this with the H7 HD Euca harvester head.”
It can be fitted onto the Ponsse Cobra, Scorpion King and Ergo harvesters, but it can also be installed on 16–22-ton track-based excavators.
The geometry and technical solutions of the new harvester head have been made to ensure maximum efficiency during debarking, feeding and sawing. The development of the harvester head has also focused on mechanical durability and the ease of maintenance.
Automated functions control saw movements according to the tree diameter and saw bar position, and allow trees to be cut quickly.
Janne said that all Ponsse heads have simple and solid structures which is why they can be used in various harvesting applications, ranging from harvesters to track-based solutions.
All Ponsse harvester heads are manufactured and designed at the Ponsse factory in Vieremä, Finland. Ponsse equipment is distributed and fully supported in South Africa by MTS Parts, with branches in Piet Retief and Nelspruit/Mbombela.
Andrew Morris - big contribution to forestry research
Dr Andrew Morris, who retired from his post as CEO of the Institute for Commercial Forestry Research (ICFR) at the end of March, has had a big impact on the forestry industry in southern Africa in the course of a long and distinguished career.
He has been at the centre of ground-breaking research in Swaziland and South Africa that has played a key role in improving soil quality, plantation productivity and forest health. Imbued with an infectious sense of humour and an irrepressible intellect, Andrew can always be counted on to raise challenging questions and engage in robust debate and exchange of ideas among colleagues and forestry professionals.
After graduating with an Honours degree in Soil Science from Reading University in the UK in 1976, Andrew was employed as a Soil Physicist at the Agriculture Research Centre of the University of Swaziland.
In 1979 he joined the Usutu Pulp Company of Swaziland where he was involved in ground breaking research to explain and correct a yield decline in pine pulpwood plantations. This led to the introduction of fertilizer applications to improve the fertility of the soil, which reversed the productivity decline. This research was the basis for his PhD which he obtained through Reading University in 1987.
On his return to Swaziland, he formed a multidisciplinary research team that developed silviculture research in re-establishment practice, weed control, site-species matching, tree breeding and forest protection, that together with a new site classification realised significant benefits through the introduction of site-specific silvicultural practices.
In 1997 he was appointed General Manager for Research and Nurseries with Sappi Forests based at Tweedie in the KZN midlands. He transferred the concepts of integrated multidisciplinary research used in Swaziland, founded on site classification, across Sappi’s South African plantations. This led to the application of site-specific silviculture practices, and the continued development of tree improvement programmes that delivered improved eucalypt and pine planting stock to the plantations. Propagation research resulted in the modernisation of nursery production to produce the genetically improved rooted cuttings of various hybrids.
The application of this work has had a big impact on the forestry industry with eucalypt wood production per unit area of land significantly increased. Sappi’s eucalypt MAI effectively doubled between 1981 and 2000. Site classification, site-species matching, genetically improved planting stock, application of fertilizer at planting and improved weed control have all played a key role in this productivity improvement.
In a country where the area suitable for commercial wood production is limited with no opportunity for significant expansion, these productivity improvements are crucial in meeting growing demand for wood and wood fibre in South Africa.
Seeking a new challenge to help develop research initiatives beneficial to the whole forestry sector, Andrew joined the ICFR as Research Manager in 2013. His career up to this point had taken him from active research to research management, and the move to the ICFR was intended to reverse this trend. But once again he was required to perform a management role when, from 2017, as Director he led the institute through a major restructure securing new funding for a suite of research projects.
The ICFR Business Manager Karin Nagel took over from Andrew as Acting CEO from 1st April. She has a strong management support team in Julian Chan (Group Leader Tree Breeding), Ilaria Germishuizen (Group Leader Sustainable Production) and Greg Fuller (Technical Support).
“The ICFR continues to provide high quality applied research relevant to policy and practice in the forestry sector which requires continued collaboration with other organisations to deliver the needed multidisciplinary understanding,” concluded Andrew.
Andrew has been an Honorary Professor, Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, University of Pretoria, and Honorary Research Fellow of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He is author and co-author of more than 35 peer reviewed scientific papers and has presented at numerous scientific conferences, symposia and workshops. He has been involved in several forestry feasibility studies in Africa, South America, China and South East Asia. Industry roles have included Chairman of the Advisory Board for the Camcore International Tree Improvement Cooperative at North Carolina State University (2003-2011), leader of the South African Pitch Canker Control Programme and Editor-in-Chief of Southern Forests: A Journal of Forest Science.
A scientist at heart, Andrew says he is looking forward to continuing his involvement in the forestry industry as a research associate for the ICFR.
“Throughout my career I have been privileged to work with a host of knowledgeable, innovative and motivated researchers, technicians and foresters, and it would be nice to help the next generation in some small way,” he said.
He believes further opportunities exist for investment in forestry research that can bring important improvements to the various forestry value chains important in South Africa, and benefit to the tree farmers who supply the wood.
International collaboration boosts forestry education
Five South African universities have partnered with local and international stakeholders to introduce cutting edge, climate-smart forestry and entrepreneurship to their forestry courses. Norman Dlamini of Forestry South Africa (FSA) explains the aims and objectives of the programme, known as FOREST21:-
What is FOREST21? FOREST21 is a collaborative project between South Africa, Finland and Norway titled “the 21st Century Climate-Smart Forestry Education for Livelihoods and Sustainability in South Africa”. The FOREST21 initiative is a capacity-building project in the area of higher education, involving the five South African higher education institutes offering forestry qualifications as well as two universities in Finland and one in Norway. The FOREST21 initiative has three core pillars: climate-smart forestry, forestry entrepreneurship and student-centred teaching methods.
The project is generously co-funded by the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union to the tune of € 999, 965.00 and will be officially launched on 14 April 2021, although the logistical aspect of the project started in mid-January.
Who is involved? The project was conceptualised by FSA in a bid to improve the economic and environmental contribution of the industry to South Africa’s wellbeing. FSA played a coordinating role in packaging the proposal. There are eight core FOREST21 partners: Aalto University, Fort Cox Agriculture and Forestry Training Institute, Häme University of Applied Sciences, Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, Nelson Mandela University, Stellenbosch University, Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Venda. These work alongside FSA and several associate partners, including education authorities in South Africa like the Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation (DHESI), Council for Higher Education (CHE), South Africa Qualifications Authority (SAQA) and the Fibre Processing and Manufacturing Sector Education Authority (FP&M SETA); other key universities in the area of climate change - Witwatersrand University (WITS), University of Pretoria (UP), University of Mpumalanga (UMP) - and key stakeholders, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Forests Industry in South Africa, Finland and Norway and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE).
Why is an international approach so vital? An international approach offers the opportunity of establishing partnerships and friendships that go beyond the remit of the original programme and will almost certainly outlive the three-year lifespan of FOREST21. There is also the co-generation of knowledge, the value of which should never be underestimated. The FOREST21 European partners are recognised as leaders in their field, bringing these trend leaders to assist South African higher education institutions to build local capacity in these areas of interest will improve the global competitiveness of the South African forestry industry. This willingness of our international collaborators to offer their expertise to this programme and assist South African HEI’s reform their curriculum will benefit South African learners for generations to come.
We must not forget the forestry landscape in South Africa covers five very diverse provinces and this is represented by the five South Africa higher education institutions spanning Limpopo, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape and the Western Cape. In many ways, connecting that talent found within each of these institutions is very much like an international experience in itself.
The benefits from this international approach are already materialising, from the conception of this project in 2019 and the flurry of emails, digital meetings (before they became mandatory) and telephone calls with the core partners that proceeded; we have already learnt a lot from one another and the experience to date has been nothing but extremely positive. Since the announcement in July 2020 that funding was granted, knowledge transfer has increased exponentially and the network has widened with new associate partners coming on board in November 2020. All these benefits have been realised before the project officially launched, so I am incredibly excited to see what the future has in store.
What is hoped to be achieved? The overarching project aim is to improve the forestry curriculum offered in all five institutions of higher education offering forestry programmes in South Africa.
FOREST21 will mainstream important concepts like the implementation of climate-smart forestry along the value chain while championing entrepreneurial innovativeness in forestry education. Through a countrywide curricula reform of forestry education at higher education institutions the FOREST21 project looks to equip graduates with problem-solving skills, an entrepreneurial mindset and climate-smart thinking. While curriculum improvement will not be uniform through all the universities, each participating university will choose what to implement from the pool of generated knowledge and package it to suit their local context.
FOREST21 also seeks to improve interactions amongst South Africa’s universities, as well as between them and the wider forestry industry, and ultimately promote international partnerships that will help shape the future of South African forestry.
Why is it important that we teach entrepreneurship at university? Like in many other African countries, and indeed around the world, the education system in South Africa traditionally teaches us to become better workers, but not necessarily creators of job opportunities and certainly not creators of new products and services that could solve the challenges humanity currently faces.
As more people add their voice to the need for educational reform at higher education institutions, we can no longer ignore their point that traditional educational systems were designed to produce glorified labourers, who cannot help themselves if no one employs them. While this might sound very harsh, especially to anyone who had to work incredibly hard to earn their qualification, the comment is supported by the ever-increasing number of struggling, unemployed university graduates in South Africa year after year – rich in many years of expensive university education, but financially broken.
For many, entrepreneurship seems to offer a solution to South Africa’s triple ills of poverty, unemployment and inequality. As such, it is a solution that needs to be thoroughly investigated and hopefully implemented. Closer to home, the forestry industry needs graduates that are innovative to solve the real-work challenges in this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world. This was highlighted in a study by Magaga and Scholes (2019) that found the forestry industry in need of graduates that will be innovative, proactive, and have a reasonable level of autonomy and competitive aggressiveness to take the industry a step further. All this is aligned to cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset among the graduates while they are still training. On a personal note, I believe entrepreneurship training should start earlier in the schooling system but ensuring this is the case at a university level is a good start.
What is climate-smart forestry? The time to stand together, globally, to respond to the threat posed by climate change is now – it is our responsibility, not just to our children and future generations of their children who will inherit the earth one day from us, but to every living organism that inhabits the earth.
The role of forestry in this is becoming ever more prominent and as such, climate-smart forestry has never been more relevant. Climate-Smart Forestry is a targeted approach to increase the climate benefits from forests and the Forest Sector, in a way that creates synergies with other needs related to forests. The definition may sound complex but it can be simplified to the Sector’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase its efforts mitigating against climate change.
In many ways, South African forestry is ahead of the game having embraced sustainable forest management many years ago. Today, over 80% of plantation forestry area in the country has been certified by the international Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) as sustainably produced timber, something as a country we should take pride in. As a sustainable, renewable industry that actively sequestrates carbon, the sector offers numerous potential solutions to climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies and is already seen as having a central role in South Africa’s green economic recovery and circular economy.
How will the students benefit? There are several ways students will benefit, both immediately and in the future. Immediate benefits will see 80 students, ten from each of the participating universities, selected to be part of this initiative. These students will work as international teams of learners, contributing and testing the knowledge generated as the new curricula are developed. They will also be involved in solving real-life problems experienced by the Forestry Industry, which will require teamwork and international collaboration. Perhaps, most excitingly for those involved, they will participate in the activities hosted by each of the partnering universities. This will see students globe hop from a curriculum development workshop in Evenstad, Norway to two pedagogical workshops in South Africa, one in Thohoyandou and the other in George. Then there is a climate-smart workshop in Hämeenlinna, Finland, followed by a forestry entrepreneurship workshop in Helsinki, Finland, before the closing workshop in Pretoria, South Africa. While COVID requirements are in the back of everyone’s mind and plans are being made, for now only the initial kick-off next week planned for Stellenbosch has had to be digital.
For the students involved, this is a huge opportunity affording them unrivalled networking experiences, as well as a host of transferable skills as they develop the various aspects of entrepreneurship such as problem solving, innovativeness, proactiveness and competitive aggressiveness. They will be exposed to leaders in their field and knowledge gained from the frontiers of global forestry.
More importantly, they will make an immeasurable contribution to the improvement of curricula for the students that will follow them. The contribution of this class of students also extends to sharpening the skills of the academic staff in offering excellent student-centred teaching and learning that is customised to the local context. There is no doubt that upcoming students will benefit from this immeasurably, with the improved curriculum ensuring they are better equipped to respond to the challenges of climate change and other unforeseen events.
How will the industry benefit? The forestry sector too will see both long- and short-term benefits of this project.
Short-term, during the duration of FOREST21, FSA members can host international teams of FOREST21 participants to solve real problems. Providing them with access to the collective wisdom of South African and international experts, lecturers and students, all intent on finding innovative, workable solutions.
In the medium to long-term, they can expect generations of forestry graduates ready to actively contribute to the world of work as a proactive, innovative, problem-solving asset to the industry. They will be able to co-create partnerships with higher education institutions that look to continue to strengthen the calibre of student graduating way beyond the three-year lifespan of the FOREST21 project.
The industry is already a major employer of those living in the rural communities that neighbour the forestry landscape. Working with newly qualified graduates with entrepreneurial skill sets, the Industry will be able to increase the impact it has in these communities.
How will South Africa benefit? As a nation with a young population, we need to start seeing the youth of today as the leaders of tomorrow. They are the individuals who will take South Africa forward and dictate the nation our country becomes. When looking for future leaders, trendsetters, innovators and great minds of tomorrow, one of the first places to start is our country’s universities – it will be the students of today who will shape the South Africa of tomorrow.
The FOREST21 programme acknowledges this, seeking to ensure the students of today are given the correct entrepreneurial skill sets to face the global challenges of tomorrow (and today) like climate change. So while they are the major beneficiaries of the project, indirectly the whole country will benefit from tomorrow’s leaders being better equipped to face the challenges of today, tomorrow and in the future in a way that is both sustainable and ensures South Africa remains globally competitive.
Ultimately the hope is that FOREST21 interventions will increase employment opportunities for forestry graduates, as well as those graduating in other disciplines who adopt similar curriculum revisions upon the success of this initiative, thus aiding in the reduction of the current 32.5% unemployment rate. FOREST21 should help reduce the average age class of South African entrepreneurs, currently set at 45 - 54 years old according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, by introducing entrepreneurism as a feasible concept in the minds of the graduating youth. We also hope, that by providing graduates with the skill sets required for entrepreneurs we can improve the survival of new enterprises in South Africa beyond the seemingly unbreakable 42-month ceiling. Perhaps most importantly, FOREST21, and the graduates that result from it, will play a major role in South Africa’s response to climate changes and the mitigation strategies put forward.
Despite the fact that sawdust piles are fire hazards, they are very unlikely to spontaneously combust as a result of heat build-up as the composting process of pure sawdust is too slow. This argument was accepted by the judge in a court case in which a sawmiller was sued by a neighbouring landowner who claimed that a sawdust pile spontaneously combusted, causing a fire that damaged his plantation. DAVE DOBSON reports …
Background This case study deals with allegations of spontaneous combustion in sawdust heaps on the Defendant’s property that resulted in a fire that devastated a neighbouring commercial pine plantation.
The Client The client was the Defendant in this case; the owner of a property on which eucalypts were grown to supply a sawmill that processed the timber to produce pallets.
The sawdust arising from the milling operation was dumped at various localities on the property and not incinerated on account of the danger associated with this operation.
This case deals specifically with the claim by the Plaintiff that as a result of the manner in which the Defendant managed the sawdust, spontaneous combustion occurred. This lead to the wild fire that burnt the neighbouring commercial pine plantation belonging to the Plaintiff.
The Challenges A number of challenges arose in the case but the most important one related specifically to the sawdust. In the summons it was claimed that the sawdust piles constituted a fire hazard in that: • The Defendant had not intermittently layered the sawdust with soil. • The Defendant had not restricted the height of the sawdust heaps so as to avert or minimise the risk of spontaneous combustion occurring in the sawdust pile.
The Plaintiff claimed that these two omissions were largely the reason for the spontaneous combustion occurring.
A third claim was that the Defendant failed to maintain an effective firebreak around the perimeter of the sawdust piles. Such a firebreak - if implemented - would have contained the fire to the sawdust pile.
The Solution While sawdust fires are recognised as being a potential fire risk, SAFIRE Insurance Company Ltd. had at the time that this court action commenced (2012) never received a claim emanating from smouldering sawdust piles.
However there was a single incident reported to SAFIRE of a fire in a sawdust pile, but this was not the result of spontaneous combustion of the pile. This was a fire in sawdust at a sawmill on the farm Etterby in the Richmond district. This fire was extinguished by digging out the smouldering sawdust and dousing the area with water. The fire had entered the sawdust while the landowner was burning a firebreak around the sawdust pile.
Spontaneous combustion does at times occur at composting facilities when the compost heaps self-heat to temperatures high enough to ignite. In these instances no external heat source is required. In order for composting organic material to ignite very specific conditions are required. These are: • A C:N (Carbon:Nitrogen) ratio of 20:1 to 35:1 is required. Sawdust has a C:N ratio of between 300:1 to 400:1. The result of this is that the composting process for pure sawdust will be extremely slow. (Nitrogen is required to feed the micro-organisms that are responsible for the composting process. There is simply not enough of this nutrient for them to thrive!) • The moisture content of the compost heap must be greater than 50%. Below this percentage the composting process slows down. • Aeration is required for rapid, efficient composting. Allowing the organic material to become anaerobic (compacted) will slow the composting process.
In the composting process temperatures in the compost stack rise and can reach 70OC to 80OC as a result of the activity of the micro-organisms breaking down the organic material. Above 80OC micro-organisms die and chemical reactions take over. This chemical heating can continue to raise the temperature of the organic material until it reaches about 150OC at which point ignition can occur. It is important to note that both the biological and chemical oxidation processes require oxygen to proliferate. Progress is extremely slow under low oxygen (anaerobic) conditions.
Back to the spontaneous combustion sawdust pile court case. In this case the Expert for the Plaintiff used the example of silage production, likening the heat build-up in silage to spontaneous combustion. From the previous discussion a number of points arise. The first is that maize used for silage is green and thus contains a high proportion of nitrogen that is required by the micro-organisms to break down this organic material. The organic material is also moist which fulfils the moisture requirement. However, silage is compacted thus resulting in anaerobic conditions. The silage will simply not burst into flame!
Further issues that mitigated against spontaneous combustion in the sawdust on the Defendant’s property were that the sawdust was spread and compacted i.e. this would have limited the oxygen available to the micro-organisms responsible for composting this organic material. The sawdust pile in question was merely one meter deep and any heat build-up would have been rapidly dissipated. Finally, had there been any combustion in the sawdust pile a source of fine ash would have marked the site of ignition. No such evidence was found.
Conclusion Spontaneous combustion will not occur in sawdust. The primary reason being the C:N ration of this organic material. Sawdust fires will invariably be the result of fire from the outside entering the sawdust pile - as was reported in the Richmond case.
The result of the trial was a finding in favour of the Defendant. Spontaneous combustion was ruled out as the origin of the fire, and honey hunting was identified as the source. This activity had set a stump alight which later - under extreme weather conditions - ignited grass on the edge of the sawdust pile. Despite attempts by the Defendant’s team to put the fire out, it swept across the sawdust pile as well as the firebreak around the sawdust pile into a gum compartment and on into the Plaintiff’s property.
Mulching of harvest residues is rapidly gaining ground in South African forestry, and is proving to be a game changer …
Deon Redinger of Savithi Mulching is one of a new crop of contractors flying the flag for mulching as a means of managing post-harvest slash in SA. Deon is a passionate believer in the benefits of mulching over burning slash, and local forestry companies – notably Sappi – have opted for mulching over burning in plantations with sensitive soils.
Historically there has been a reluctance on the part of forestry companies to throw their full weight behind mulching, due to the relative cost of mulching vs burning, which is the traditional South African way of dealing with slash.
This reluctance to engage with mulching has been exacerbated by the fact that it is known to be one of the toughest operations in forestry – on both man and machine. Contractors and growers have had to learn some hard lessons in the process of finding the right systems that can meet productivity expectations while delivering a consistent quality of mulch.
Moreover the additional and hidden benefits of mulching are not easily quantifiable. It impacts on almost every facet of growing and harvesting trees, so to appreciate the full benefits you have to consider the bigger picture - not just short term rands and cents.
Productive tree growth requires a healthy soil habitat which is achieved through maintaining the pristine state and balance of soil physical, chemical and biological properties. Numerous local and global studies have demonstrated the extreme negative impact of organic matter loss due to repeated residue removal, burning (and subsequent erosion) on the soil health and productivity of sensitive soils. Residues left behind after harvest contain large quantities of organically bound nutrients and carbon. Mulching compared to burning or residue removal directly conserves the soil health. This retained organic matter feeds the trees and soil microbes as a slow release organic fertiliser and carbon source for much of the subsequent rotation. Healthy soil microbes contribute to tree nutrition and are believed to also act as the soils immune system by outcompeting soil pathogens.
Further benefits measured after mulching are increased soil water due to reduced surface evaporation, reduced weed growth and increased percolation; and stabilisation of soil temperature by eliminating extreme heat and cold. Prevention of soil erosion and compaction through surface protection are further major benefits.
In addition, greenhouse gas emission due to fuel use during mulching is far less than the methane and nitrous oxide release during residue burning.
Residue mulching through these benefits can potentially mitigate the effects of climate change.
No more burning
Sappi was one of the first large grower companies to adopt mulching of slash as a strategy in their Zululand plantations. Work by Sappi’s research team to gauge the cost benefit based on trials concluded that at rotation end the additional growth benefit was three times the cost of mulching. This research was used to motivate for the decision to proceed with mulching in Zululand.
Sappi started doing trials in 2010, and by 2014 were mulching 100% of their Zululand coastal plantations, stretching from Richards Bay to north of Mtubatuba. No more burning of slash takes place on these plantations.
Mulching solved a lot of problems for Sappi in Zululand, reducing temporary unplanted areas dramatically, improving seedling survival and growth, removing old stumps thus paving the way for better access for modernised silviculture operations and fire prevention; as well as more productive future harvesting operations, whilst protecting and nourishing the sensitive soils with a mulch blanket.
Much work has been carried out by Sappi in quantifying the financial benefits of mulching due to improved growth at rotation age. Their research team has installed mulch/burn twin plots to directly measure and compare the effects of mulching on soil water, soil health and tree growth.
This work has led to a study currently being undertaken by Leeshan Mahadeo, a BSc Forestry graduate from Stellenbosch University, to gauge the impact of mechanical mulching on subsequent pitting and planting operations in both pine and Eucalyptus. The study, supervised by Bruce Talbot and Simon Ackerman of Stellenbosch University, is being implemented on sites in Zululand, KZN midlands and the Mpumalanga Highveld.
This study will provide useful data that will help to clarify the operational cost/benefits of mulching while developing drone-based methods for residue load assessment.
Negative impact of residue removal
According to Sappi research scientist, Steven Dovey, productive tree growth requires a healthy soil habitat which is achieved through maintaining the pristine state and balance of soil physical, chemical and biological properties. Numerous local and global studies have demonstrated the extreme negative impact of organic matter loss due to repeated residue removal, burning (and subsequent erosion) on the soil health and productivity of sensitive soils, he says.
Residues left behind after harvest contain large quantities of organically bound nutrients and carbon. Mulching compared to burning or residue removal directly conserves the soil health, he says. This retained organic matter feeds the trees and soil microbes as a slow release organic fertiliser and carbon source for much of the subsequent rotation. Healthy soil microbes contribute to tree nutrition and are believed to also act as the soil’s immune system by outcompeting soil pathogens.
Further benefits measured after mulching are increased soil water due to reduced surface evaporation, reduced weed growth and increased percolation; and stabilisation of soil temperature by eliminating extreme heat and cold. Prevention of soil erosion and compaction through surface protection are further major benefits.
In addition, greenhouse gas emission due to fuel use during mulching is far less than the methane and nitrous oxide release during residue burning. Thus residue mulching can potentially mitigate the effects of climate change, says Steven.
Savithi Mulching, equipped with a fleet of tough-as-teak Tigercat wheeled mulchers, are currently mulching for Sappi in Zululand, and have now started mulching for Sappi in the KZN midlands around Ixopo, Highflats and Bulwer as well.
Deon Redinger established Savithi Mulching in 2010, initially using tracked machines but now has graduated to wheeled Tigercat M726G machines.
“We started slowly and learnt a lot of lessons along the way,” says Deon. “We started with tracked machines, but when we got wheeled machines we came right.”
The three most important ingredients in the mulching business, according to Deon, are the quality of your ‘pilot’ (operator), effective maintenance and spares availability.
It’s no coincidence that he calls his operators ‘pilots’. This is because it takes training, skill and concentration to operate a mulcher properly. The importance of effective machine maintenance and spares availability in this extremely tough operating environment speaks for itself.
Every compartment presents different conditions and different challenges, says Deon. Tree species require different mulching tactics due to the quantity and nature of the slash left behind. Some stumps are much harder to grind down than others; ground conditions, weather, slope and the turnaround space at the compartment edges - all of these factors impact on the mulching operation.
“The challenge is to get the mulch to cover the soil evenly like a blanket (not to mix the mulch up with the soil) and to reduce stumps to ground height.”
He says the mulcher will run over a brushline two or three times to get an even distribution of mulch that you can plant into.
It can take anything from two to six hours to mulch one hectare (in Zululand), depending on conditions, so Savithi generally works on an average of three hours per hectare. He says they average around three hectares per machine per day, and do not operate at night.
Deon says that 350 horse power is the minimum grunt required for an effective mulcher. He’s also convinced that wheeled machines are better than tracked because they can be moved around from compartment to compartment without the need for a lowbed trailer.
He says they are operating right behind the harvesting team, and as soon as they’re done mulching the planting team moves in. They are also mulching the routes that will be used to extract the harvested timber from in-field, so mobility of the mulching machines between adjacent compartments is essential. This operation speeds up the shorthaul, reduces tyre damage and protects the soil from compaction.
All post plant and future harvesting operations are made easier and cheaper in compartments that have been mulched.
Deon says Savithi has mulched 13 000 to 14 000 ha in Zululand over the past few years, and just this year will mulch 3 000 to 4 000 ha in the KZN midlands.
“We can work in fairly steep slopes – where a skidder can go our mulchers can go,” he said.
Savithi has also been mulching old forestry compartments for private farmers that are converting land to other crops like macadamias, avos and pecans.
Deon has been doing a lot of work to find an effective way to accumulate mulch for further downstream processing opportunities that he believes will be viable in future, and likes to refer to mulched material as “unutilised biomass”.
Sappi’s Zululand Area Manager, Sandile Nkosi, says mulching has enabled the Sappi forestry team to keep temporary unplanted areas below 1.5% throughout the year, thanks to the speed of mechanised operations and the extended planting window that mulching has given them. Furthermore it has enabled Sappi Zululand to maximise silviculture mechanisation, improving compartment access for planting, weeding and fire fighting.
He says they have had fewer fires since they started mulching, and are able to put fires out quickly as they don’t spread so fast. He says all the Sappi foresters have observed improved survival and growth in mulched compartments.
Says Deon: “the mulching operation returns organic matter back into the soil and increases plant growth by 5-10%.
“The benefits of mulching harvesting residues are infinitely preferable to burning them. It has taken some time, but the benefits of the mulching process are finally being recognised by the forestry industry.”
The last page of Sappi’s 2019 Corporate Citizenship report focuses on the company’s mulching strategy in their South African plantations, and states: “The value of the estimated additional timber produced exceeds the current mulching costs.”
There you have it! With the right team, the right equipment and sufficient commitment and experience, mulching can be a game changer in the South African forestry environment.
Bell pre-owned equipment can now be shopped online thanks to the launch of a dedicated global website, pre-owned.bellequipment.com, which is also accessible from the company’s website.
Doug Morris, Bell Equipment’s Managing Director: Europe, Middle East and Africa, who has overseen the project, said: “Previously our efforts were localised, and we wanted to create an online solution to promote our pre-owned equipment globally. The website gives Bell operations, and dealers should they wish, access to a fully integrated platform to advertise their pre-owned Bell machines. This means that customers around the world can shop all the pre-owned equipment we have available from one user-friendly and convenient website.
“We are thrilled with the result because it gives the group flexibility that did not exist before. For example, Bell UK can now sell its stock in South Africa or through our entire dealer network, and vice versa. The platform gives us the ability to easily manage an integrated internal stock system, upload to our website as well as publish to an external service provider to advertise internationally.”
In keeping with the global theme of the website, customers can select their preferred currency and choose to have information displayed in either English, German, Russian, French or Spanish.
The website is easy to navigate and groups machinery according to industry, namely: mining and construction, forestry, agriculture, roads and rehabilitation, crushing and screening, and application equipment.
For each piece of kit there are several photographs and detailed information including the brand, year of manufacture, hours worked, the machine location and the selling price and contact details of the organisation selling the machine. This information can be used to refine a search. In addition, customers can generate an enquiry directly from the website.
CHEP expands its forestry portfolio in SA
CHEP, one of the world’s leading sustainable logistics businesses, has expanded its forestry portfolio in South Africa to 18 pine timber farms, effectively doubling its interests in timber farms in the country.
“We’re really excited by our new acquisitions,” said CHEP Forestry Senior Director Jed Krige. “It’s another step towards building an independent, sustainable and regenerative supply chain. We are getting to a point where we will be putting more timber resources into the world than we take out.”
The CHEP forestry holdings in South Africa now cover an area in excess of 7 500ha of standing pine farms. Most of the existing CHEP Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) forests carry the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) accreditation, while the latest new forest acquisitions are currently being upgraded in compliance with the international FSC standards.
The CHEP SSA farms are all located in the Bulwer / Underberg district and are within 90 kms of CHEP’s Weatherboard Sawmill. They are managed by Forestry Manager Gordon McKenzie and a team of experienced foresters.
CHEP’s unique pooling system epitomises the circular economy, with CHEP pallets being shared and reused (not sold) by clients in FMCG, Original Equipment Manufacturers and agricultural supply chains.
Today, CHEP’s humble pine pallet underpins many of the world’s supply chains. Third-party Life Cycle Analysis has shown that CHEP pallets use 3,5 times less wood, generate 2,5 times less waste, and emit 2,3 times less CO2, compared with the main market alternative.
“The timber backward integration strategy in South Africa was initiated in 2006. It was as a result of ongoing shortages of industrial grade timber to be used in the local pallet market. The strategy was to secure standing sustainable timber farms for supply to sawmills. The sawmills would then produce pallet repair timber to the exact CHEP dimensions, maximizing timber yield. We are now in a position, with our farms, to supply our own sawmill (on 22-year rotation) for up to 60% of CHEP SSA’s current annual requirements”, said Krige.
Ownership of its own sustainable pine timber farms has therefore mitigated against market shortages and largely mitigated against the risk of non-supply or inconsistent supply of locally provided timber. It has also removed the need to import timber, which is time-consuming, expensive and environmentally unsustainable.
Another noteworthy contribution from CHEP owned farms is the effect it has on surrounding communities. Employment opportunities are created for the locals on the CHEP farms as well as the opportunity to harvest reeds on the farms for the manufacture of reed mats. Alien timber is also supplied to the surrounding communities to be used as firewood.
“Ultimately, we want to restore, replenish and create more value for society and the environment than the business takes out,” said Krige. “As a pioneer in the circular economy, and with the support of our stakeholders, we are well positioned to succeed.”
CHEP is a division of the international Brambles Group.
Demand for invasive tree wood boosts SA water security
Water is at the heart of the removal of invasive alien plant (IAP) species in water-scarce South Africa – and momentum is boosting a value-adding ‘green’ chain that is reducing IAPs, replenishing water tables by millions of litres per year, increasing demand for often beautiful and functional IAP wood, and creating jobs.
Henry Sebata, MD of Avocado Vision, parent company of Green Business Value Chain (GBVC), which is driving the value chain, says the process is directly aligned to World Water Day on 22 March, which celebrated water and raises awareness of the global water crisis, this year under the theme of ‘valuing water’.
GBVC was established four years ago to ensure sustainability of an IAP-focused value chain, working alongside the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) to restore water tables, dry rivers and grassland, while ensuring livelihoods, and developing markets for value-added IAP biomass products such as eco-friendly charcoal, furniture, decking, poles, fencing, pulp, and more. The 5-step value chain process includes: 1. Identifying and mapping IAP-infested locations 2. Developing local and international markets 3. Selecting and training local entrepreneurs to be efficient business owners 4. Ensuring removal of IAPs and restoration of environment by SMMEs 5. Identifying appropriate value-added products for the different IAPs to be converted into.
GBVC works with a wide range of local and international partners at every stage of the value chain, and is operational in areas in Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Gauteng, and Limpopo. In the mid-Breede River Valley, a project is returning 7 million litres of water per hectare cleared per year to the river system and ensuring conversion of the biomass to products of value. In the Eastern Cape, a cohort of SMMEs has been trained by Avocado Vision to clear IAPs efficiently and manufacture eco charcoal, which is in production and finding markets in Europe and USA.
Another significant success story in the conversion of IAP biomass to something of value and beauty is Homewood, a South African furniture crafter owned and run by Ian Perry, who, working together with Avocado Vision, GBVC, DEFF and others, created the now fast-growing Amanzi Conscious Collection – exquisite eco furniture that offers creativity and functionality while restoring water tables and balance to sensitive environments.
15 March 2021 saw the launch of the newest addition to the collection – the Kotini range, created exclusively for and in collaboration with Mr Price Home in response to the retailer’s passion for building local business and for the environment. Perry says, “The Kotini range is so named because we use locally sourced, alien invasive cottonwood to handcraft the furniture. It’s environmentally focused and feelgood, supporting local job creation, local business, and our local ecosystem. Every hectare of IAP trees removed for this furniture results in 3-million litres of water returning to our precious waterways. If nothing else, that’s a great conversation starter around a beautiful cottonwood table.”
Homewood also designed and created Nando’s iLanga chair, made from 100% poplar and wattle, which come from USA and Australia. “Our entire Amanzi Conscious Collection furniture is founded on the vision of giving back to the earth and is working towards a solution to the devastation of our water table by IAPs,” says Perry.
Sebata adds, “We’re gaining ground and we’re making the most of all our learnings throughout our processes. We know that working with partners – relevant government departments, local SMMEs, environmental organisations and corporates – goes a long way to ensuring an efficient value chain; and we also know that training is key to the success of our projects at every stage. We have formed incubators of local SMMEs in different locations, helping them build basic business and financial acumen to ensure their businesses remain sustainable, and continue to create jobs.”
DEFF estimates that at least 10 million hectares in South Africa have been invaded by IAP species with an annual water use of around 3.3 million m3 each year (3.3 billion litres).
Sebata says GBVC and Avocado Vision are constantly seeking potential partners throughout the value chain, particularly with organisations that recognise the value of using products manufactured from IAPs. “The wood of many invasive species is beautiful, useable, and very valuable in terms of what it means to our water supply. We welcome opportunities to work with organisations that embrace the value of a greener – and wetter – future for our country.”
South Africa receives around 25 million lightning strikes a year, and Piet Retief is the ‘Lightning Capital’ of SA. While there’s not much that foresters can do to prevent lightning strikes, there’s plenty they can do to make sure they are well prepared to douse the resulting fires. GAYNOR LAWSON reports …
According to the South African Weather Service (SAWS), South Africa is the southern hemisphere’s highest risk country in terms of lightning-related deaths and injuries (following India and the USA in global terms), with an estimated 25 million strikes hitting the ground each year. Lightning causes millions of Rands’ worth of damage to property and livestock. Global warming is making matters worse, with higher temperatures, longer dry seasons and less rainfall in high-risk areas.
Direct lightning strikes in timber plantations generally do not damage more than one or two individual trees at a time, but when those trees are large, mature pines grown for saw timber, the value of the loss is quite significant – especially when there are multiple strikes over the summer storm season.
However it is the fire that results from a lightning strike that does the real damage. This is where foresters need to be well prepared to douse lightning fires quickly before they get a chance to spread.
What is lightning? Basically, lightning is a massive, naturally-generated spark of electricity. In the early stages of a storm, air acts as an insulator between positive and negative charges present in the clouds and between clouds and the ground. If there is sufficient development of opposite charges, this insulating capacity fails, resulting in an extremely hot and fast discharge of electricity - lightning. This temporarily balances the charged areas of the atmosphere until opposite charges build up again. Lightning can heat the atmosphere to temperatures five times hotter than the sun, causing the air to quickly expand and vibrate, creating the distinctive accompanying rumbling of thunder.
Where and when does it occur? Lightning is most likely to strike tall trees in open areas or near bodies of water, on high ground, or close to buildings with electrical wiring and plumbing. According to satellite observations, it occurs more frequently over land than over the sea, with Equatorial Africa being the most high-frequency lightning zone in the world. Locally, SAWS rates Piet Retief as the country’s lightning capital, with the highest density of strikes per square kilometre (as recorded between 2006 and 2018), and a flash density of 16,9 per square kilometre per annum. Carolina, also in Mpumalanga, is close behind with a strike density of 15,6. Generally speaking, the Eastern Escarpment and its adjacent regions have flash densities in excess of 12 flashes per km² annually. The most high-risk period for these regions is the end of October/beginning of November, with random storms occurring while conditions are still dry after winter.
How much of an issue for insurers is lightning? Pierre Bekker, CEO of short-term insurers Safire Insurance, which has been offering cover to the forestry sector since 1987 through the Safire Crop Protection Co-operative, says: “In terms of damage to plantations, lightning has a minimal impact - it will generally take out a single tree. It’s the resultant fire that causes the damage.” Safire Crop offers plantation clients cover for ‘defined events’ including fire, lightning and explosions. “If adequate measures are in place, such as properly managed fire breaks and a fast-acting response crew, and if there isn’t too much wind with the storm and lightning, the rain that usually accompanies a storm helps curb the spread of the fire. It’s when it’s a dry storm, which is less common, that it’s a problem.”
Lightning nevertheless presents commercial and domestic insurers with a major headache. For Safire, lightning is the most expensive cause of claims - on average 18% more costly than an average burglary claim - and is the basis for over 5% of total claims paid out in the past 15 years. Last year, 10.3% of property claims from the company’s general short-term clients was for damage caused by lightning.
“It’s second on the list of causes of claims after motor vehicle accidents,” comments Bekker, “especially for farmers insured by our specialist dairy product, both in terms of severity of the incident and frequency of claims. Very seldom do we have claims for timber damaged by lightning, but much more often for cattle and other livestock or game animals, pumps and household items such as computers and TVs.”
When there’s bad weather, cattle tend to group together so that a single strike can kill several animals. Also, as farming becomes more high-tech, tractors and harvesters with their sensitive electronics are vulnerable and often have to be completely written off, resulting in high costs to the insurer. Also at risk are camera towers in plantations, largely because of their height. “It can be expensive if the fire-monitoring equipment and solar panels are taken out,” Bekker adds, “and often with lightning claims it’s hard to differentiate between actual lightning damage and damage from the power surge.”
Are there influencing factors? Dr Ronald Heath, Director: Research & Protection at Forestry South Africa says “Lightning is similar to any point ignition. The fire intensity and rate of spread is determined by factors such as fuel load, fuel type and moisture, ambient temperature, relative humidity and geography”. People are far more dangerous than lightning; they are the most common cause of wildfires, whether intentionally or accidentally. A recent study revealed that 96% of American wildfires severe enough to threaten residential areas were caused by human actions (discarded cigarettes, rubbish left to burn unattended, arson). Also, human-caused fires are often deliberately placed for maximum impact.
“Malicious fires (arson) are frequently set in severe weather conditions and quite often at the bottom of a slope with the prevailing wind and in multiple places,” says Simon Thomas, Operations Manager & Fire Protection Officer of KZNFPA. “This will result in a very fast spread over multiple ignition sites resulting in maximum damage. Containing these types of fires is very difficult. The problem with lightning fires in the early part of the summer rainfall season (so-called dry storms), is that multiple ignitions can occur over a large area, once again making these fires difficult to contain. The difference is that often these strikes occur on high areas and not necessarily at the bottom of a slope, which results in the slower spread of these fires.”
Is there salvage value? “Usually when a tree is directly stuck by lightning, it results in significant stem damage. Generally, the stem is not utilisable no matter the size,” says Dr Heath. In the bigger picture, a single tree does not cause financial loss. It’s once a runaway fire develops as a result of the lightning strike and sweeps through a plantation that the loss becomes significant. Is it all bad news though? It depends. The main contributing factor is whether a salvage operation can be carried out or not. The extent of the damage and the intended use of the timber are major deciding factors. In the case of chips or pulping some timber can still be produced but at a higher cost. Burned pine needs to be harvested as quickly as possible to avoid blue staining that sets in after a fire, reducing the quality of the product being produced at the sawmills. It also depends on the current market value of the timber type, and the size and age of the tree(s). Young trees tend to suffer worse fire damage so there is unlikely to be any salvage value.
Risk management measures Speedy response to a fire threat is vital in curtailing the spread and extent of the damage (and potential risk to the lives of responders). Manned fire towers are commonplace across the world but the human factor is a weakness: inactivity and boredom lead to sleepiness and lack of attention. The FireHawk digital fire detection system, developed locally almost 30 years ago, is popular with the larger corporate growers as well as clients in Chile, Brazil, Ghana and Malawi. But it is relatively costly. Is there an alternative for smaller growers?
“We developed Dtect as a web-based lightning detection system specifically for foresters, who face unique challenges,” says Willem Oosthuizen. Dtect was inspired by a request from Mondi for a foolproof alert system to give sufficient warning of approaching lightning to get infield personnel out of the danger zone. “It can be customised in terms of how clients receive notifications and alerts - usually directly to their cellphone - with access to a lightning map as an option.” Dtect can cross-reference between multiple sensors and is linked to the world’s largest lightning sensor network with over 1 200 sensors, ensuring the most accurate strike information available globally.
The truth? We know the mantra: when lightning roars, go indoors. Yet around 200 South Africans die from lightning annually, mainly in rural areas when victims seek shelter under trees. Alarmingly, lightning can strike far from where rain is falling (even 16km or so away). The safest option is to retreat to a brick structure or hard-topped vehicle until you cannot see or hear lightning - an app like WeatherBug is useful for identifying how close lightning strikes really are. A roof over your head isn’t enough: sheds, pavilions, tents and covered stoeps offer no protection from lightning.
Debunking the myths • Lightning can strike twice: the Empire State Building is hit about 25 times per year, on top and on the sides of the structure. • You cannot be electrocuted if you touch a victim - the human body does not store electricity. • Being inside behind closed doors is no guarantee of safety - stay away from conducting paths leading outside such as wires, plumbing, cables, metal doors and window frames. • Lightning doesn’t always strike the highest point. It may strike the ground right next to a telephone pole or tree. • Crouching or lying down will not make you any safer.
Remember, we live in the third most risky country in the world in terms of being killed by a lightning strike. Get inside as soon as you can.
Three South African researchers have made it to the global shortlist of the Blue Sky Young Researchers and Innovation Awards.
The awards, launched in 2016 by the International Council of Forest and Paper Associations (ICFPA), aim to recognise, celebrate and promote innovations in the global forestry sector.
Justin Phillips and Hester Oosthuizen, both from the University of Pretoria, and Eddie Barnard from Stellenbosch University, go up against another 18 of their peers from around the world. The top three finalists will win cash prizes and get an opportunity to present their work at the ICFPA’s Global CEO Roundtable virtual discussion on 29 April.
Particle board from paper sludge Eddie Barnard is exploring the commercial viability of using technical lignin (a by-product from the wood pulping phase in pulp or paper making) and pulp and paper sludge (rejected, degraded, and spilled fibres and water from the pulping and paper making processes) to make composite materials.
Lignin has binding properties, which when combined with sludge, could be used to make construction materials such as a replacement for particle board. The use of lignin together with pulp and paper sludge could replace components that would otherwise be produced from fossil-based resources, and reduce associated waste, greenhouse gas emissions and disposal costs.
Cattle dip for killing ticks Justin Phillips has looked at how starch and nano-cellulose can be used as a carrier material for pesticide application in the agricultural sector. The insoluble solid active ingredient in the pesticide attaches to the carrier, which is water-soluble and allows for safer and more efficient and safe controlled release of the pesticide, especially in aqueous environments such as animal dipping for tick prevention.
A substitute for petroleum-based plastics Cellulose is uniquely positioned to substitute many petroleum-based plastics, however it cannot be melt-processed and dissolved using common organic solvents. This is why Hester Oosthuizen examined the efficacy of using choline chloride and ionic liquids, considered greener and less volatile, to make cellulose fluid enough to produce cellulose-based materials using existing polymer processing techniques.
“We are immensely proud of our finalists for making it this far, and demonstrating that South Africa can hold its own against the best in the world,” says Jane Molony, executive director of the Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa (PAMSA). “As a sector we constantly look for ways to support young people with an interest in science and technology and are proud of the career opportunities our member companies can offer them.”
Wood – a renewable alternative to conventional materials As a sustainably farmed resource that stores carbon, wood is increasingly being used not only in the built environment for houses and high-rises, but also for its cellulose, lignin and sugars. These elements all have a role in helping the world find renewable and low-carbon alternatives to the likes of plastic, chemicals, steel and concrete.
“Two key advantages that commercially farmed trees bring are their renewability and their carbon storage,” explains Molony. “The fact that trees are sustainably planted, harvested and replenished on the same land makes both wood and paper products renewable and efficient resources. For a low carbon future, it’s tremendously exciting – especially when we look at the kind of research our young scientists are producing.”
An international panel with connections to industry, academia and public policy has been assembled to judge the awards, including: • Lyndall Bull, Forestry Officer at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (UN) • Barbara Tavora Jainchill, Programme Management Officer, Forest Affairs, with the UN Forum on Forests Secretariat • Fernando L. Garcia Bertolucci, Executive Director of Technology and Innovation at Suzano S.A. and Member of IUFRO • Professor Gil Garnier, Director of BioPRIA within the Department of Chemical Engineering at Monash University • John Innes, Dean of the Faculty of Forestry at University of British Columbia. The local round was adjudicated by Valeske Cloete (Mpact), Sanet Minnaar (Sappi) and Mike Nash, former head of PAMSA’s Process Research Unit and experienced chemical engineer.