An innovative Swedish start-up has been in stealth mode since the start of 2020, but now they have finally revealed their pioneering technology for forest management – a thinnings drone.
“We have been working in secret for almost two years and already have paying customers among Europe’s largest forest owners. But now it’s time for our public launch. We want to tell you about our concept, which is to thin trees from the air with electric drones,” says Caroline Walerud, who is co-founder of Airforestry, which has 13 employees and is based in Uppsala, Sweden.
Their high-capacity drone is 6.2 metres in diameter.
“We are building the forestry of the future. With the drone, trees can be thinned from the air and then transported to the nearest road. We design according to a development process that includes traceability. It has a specially designed structure in carbon fibre and angled rotors, to achieve the precision flying necessary to carry the tool and tree,” explained Caroline.
The drone carries a 60 kg harvesting tool to the selected tree. Once in place, the tool grabs the top of the tree, hugs it, prunes off the branches on the way down and then saws off the trunk. Thereafter, the tool secures the tree so that the drone can carry it away to the nearest road. This is a completely new way of thinning a forest.
One of the main benefits of the system is that there is no heavy equipment compacting the sensitive forest floor during the thinnings operation.
Bell focuses on agriculture & forestry with JCB
Bell Equipment Group has reached an agreement to distribute and support the JCB Agriculture product range in South Africa. Coinciding with this announcement, and to bring the desired focus on meeting their customers’ needs, Bell Equipment has established a separate business unit – Bell Equipment Forestry & Agriculture – to service these segments.
According to Bell Equipment Director for Products and Marketing, Stephen Jones, the JCB Agriculture product range strengthens Bell’s focus on servicing farming customers in South Africa. He said that JCB wanted to partner with a recognised local brand that would have the ability to provide countrywide support for agriculture customers for the long term.
“Both Bell and JCB started their respective businesses servicing users of material handling equipment in the agriculture industry, and we understand that the business requirements, market demands, and customer expectations of these customers are distinctly different to those of the mining and construction industries,” said Stephen.
“Our objective is to earn the support of the farming community through focus and the addition of tailored solutions for broader on-farm material handling provided by JCB Agriculture. Coupled with Bell’s existing product line, focused predominantly on sugar cane farmers and timber growers, we believe this presents an extremely appealing option for the agricultural industry,” he said.
“The current Bell agriculture products are primarily focused on the sugar and forestry industries with haulers, loaders, skidders, feller bunchers and grapples from both the traditional Bell line as well as the Matriarch brand. We intend to increase focus on these lines by placing all product that will service this customer segment under the Bell Forestry and Agriculture brand.”
Bell Forestry and Agriculture will operate separately from Bell Equipment Sales South Africa, which is focused on the mining and construction industries, but will continue to use certain BESSA branches as selling and servicing agents where it makes sense, and they are well positioned to service local farmers.
In other areas across the country Bell Forestry and Agriculture is actively looking for locally based partners to ensure in-community support of farmers for both the Bell and JCB ranges of agriculture products.
Both the Bell Equipment Forestry and Agriculture range and the JCB Agriculture range were on show at NAMPO in Bothaville in May.
SA Forestry’s 2021 Annual printed edition has been published. This 80-page glossy publication covers the forestry industry from seedling to mill, and includes reviews of the year in forestry as well as analysis, trends and innovation in the industry that provides the primary raw materials for countless downstream processors and manufacturers.
Highlights of the publication include:-
Forestry South Africa’s take on surviving and thriving in a tough 2021.
The latest B-BBEE transformation stats for the forest sector.
The Cape sawlog pinch – explaining the chronic shortage of sawlogs in the Cape.
Business profiles on NCT Forest’s champion commercial and small-scale tree farmers of the year.
Use of drones taking off in forestry research and management applications.
The switch to paper pots transforms the way commercial trees are propagated in nurseries and planted out.
Forestry and the carbon economy – a guide to how forestry can benefit from fixing carbon and fighting climate change.
The magic of trees explores the role trees play in religion, in history, in economic development, in the environment, in our lives.
Fire investigation case study … who lit the match?
Forestry company tackles water stewardship at a landscape level.
Forestry’s role in kickstarting rural economic development.
Spotlight on forestry equipment and service providers.
Copies of the SA Forestry 2021 Annual are available for sale for just R175 – it includes the cost of mailing. Payment details are on our subscription page HERE.
You can also download a PDF version of the Annual HERE.
For subscription enquiries, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Solutions for thinnings
Growing a productive forest requires hard work and commitment. Correctly timed thinning improves the forest’s growth conditions and makes trees grow sturdier more quickly. Thinning supports forest biodiversity when part of the forest is always in the growth phase.
“Thinning can also be called improvement felling, as it ensures the productivity of the forest, and the high quality and health of trees,” says Tuomo Moilanen, forest specialist at Ponsse. “The better a forest grows, the better it sequesters carbon. Thinning ensures that trees can be processed into high-quality products that sequester carbon for dozens or even hundreds of years,” says Moilanen.
In cut-to-length (CTL) harvesting, trees are already processed up to the intended length in the forest, enabling thinning to be ecological. When the harvester operator plans trails so that they can also be driven by the forwarder, trees can be both felled and transported without needing to move around unnecessarily in the forest.
“At thinning sites, the distance between trails is roughly 20 metres, and trees remaining by the side of the trail will grow in Finnish conditions 20–25 % more quickly, because they will have room to grow, both above and below,” Moilanen says.
Most premium forestry equipment manufacturers have machines designed to handle thinning operations in different conditions. One of these is the Finnish-based Ponsse. These machines are distributed and supported in South Africa by MTS Parts, based in Piet Retief in Mpumalanga.
The six-wheeled PONSSE Beaver and the eight-wheeled PONSSE Fox are ideal solutions for first thinning. PONSSE Fox is an excellent choice, especially when operating in soft terrain. High-flotation tracks should be selected as optional equipment for softer terrain to prevent surface damage.
At heavier thinning sites, the PONSSE Cobra and Scorpion harvesters, combined with the H5 or H6 harvester head, are the best choices in terms of productivity. In PONSSE Scorpion, the unobstructed visibility in all directions, together with cabin and crane levelling, makes working smooth even at dense thinning sites. As eight-wheeler machines, both models are also excellent in soft terrain.
While Elk and Wisent are the most popular PONSSE forwarders for thinning sites, Buffalo is also a good choice, especially when distances are longer, and the aim is to improve productivity. The forwarder can easily pick up trees from thinning sites when trails are properly protected (with branches) and as straight as possible; the fewer sharp bends there are, the less surface damage is caused.
At thinning sites, the harvester head should be selected according to the dominant tree species. However, it should be considered that damaged trees and other trees in poor condition must also be removed from thinning sites, calling for sawing and feed force from the harvester head. The harvester head must be reliable at thinning sites because a large number of trees are produced quickly during each shift.
At thinning sites, much rests on the forest machine operator – the operator decides what trees are removed and what are left standing. The forest owner hands over their assets to a professional forest machine operator to receive the highest possible profit, also in the future.
During September Ponsse organized an online event where customers and specialists explained more about solutions for thinning sites.
Watch the web event here...
Extreme duty steep slope shovel logger
The LSX870D is designed for extreme duty steep slope logging and is based on the popular LX870D series track carrier platform. With the choice of attachments including the new Tigercat BG13 grapple with a live heel boom or the SC08 shovel clam grapple, the LSX870D is suited to pre-bunching and shovel logging in challenging terrain.
The addition of the LSX870D to the Tigercat lineup provides a higher power, closed loop drive alternative to the LS855E. Where the LS855E provides higher swing speed and lower ground pressure, the LSX870D allows for improved multifunctioning ability and quicker, more responsive travel speed. The Tigercat FPT C87 engine supplies 245 kW (330 hp), which combined with the dedicated attachment pump, provides plenty of multi-functioning power. Lift and reach capabilities for the LS855E and the LSX870D are identical.
Tigercat’s leveling track machines use innovative technologies and systems optimized for a wide range of steep slope applications including shovel logging, felling and harvesting. Tigercat’s super-duty leveling undercarriage is longer and wider, providing exceptional stability on steep slopes. The patented leveling design uses two massive hydraulic cylinders and heavy steel sections for a solution that is simple, robust and reliable. The Tigercat leveling system leans into the hill when leveling to the side which further improves machine stability and operator comfort.
Taking sustainability beyond the balance sheet
Husqvarna SA Managing Director Pieter Smuts explains how their approach to sustainability goes way beyond the core business of supplying and supporting a range of land care equipment, and has become a way of life …
“When I returned to the forestry and garden division of Husqvarna three years ago, I faced a number of key business challenges. Back then, I decided that we were going to have to do things differently. You can’t simply continue as before and expect different results,” said Pieter Smuts, Husqvarna SA Managing Director.
“Some people have a perception that Husqvarna simply sells chain saws to cut down trees, ultimately damaging the environment. That is not true. We do a lot of work – globally and locally - to prevent that and to support sustainable businesses.
“In those earliest days when we were looking at how to take this forward, we used one of Husqvarna’s global studies entitled Urban Parks 2030 to help guide our decisions. This showed that our green spaces – gardens, parks and forests – were going to be more important than ever. The pandemic, lockdown and various health issues have taken this concept a step further, showing that green spaces are important for addressing issues like climate change, air and water quality and biodiversity as well as the mental and physical well-being of people.
“Respondents in that study noted that green spaces needed to be cared for differently and that those responsible needed to take a silent, non-invasive and sustainable approach. We have embraced this through our concept of Silent Nature™ and a range of quiet but powerful tools that include chainsaws, trimmers, brush cutters and blowers. These rely on efficient and long-lasting lithium ion batteries that produce lower emissions while eliminating noise pollution,” explained Pieter.
But these tools are also being used to tackle bigger issues and challenges.
“For instance our hand-held lithium ion powered chainsaws are now the tool of choice for the courageous conservationists who are de-horning rhinos to discourage poachers. They are not only easy to carry but powerful enough to get this process completed as quickly and quietly as possible with minimal trauma to the animal.”
Pieter said that Husqvarna has taken sustainability a step further by launching a veld management division that is providing both the tools and the technology to help farmers, nature and conservation organisations, landowners and land managers to deal with land management challenges.
“It is only now that we are experiencing the sometimes devastating results of over 100 years of bad practices. We can see that drought, changes in rainfall patterns, bush encroachment, encroachment by alien invasive plants and other contributing factors brought on by climate change have all but changed land use in sub-Saharan Africa. That is before we even begin to address issues like over-grazing, soil erosion and poor water management.
“We realised that many of our open spaces and grasslands no longer look the way they used to. In fact, many no longer exist and have been overtaken by bush and forests that should never have been there in the first place. Sadly, this includes both alien and indigenous plants and means that we now have a responsibility to intervene to restore them to what they were.”
It is easier to quantify the impact of these changes in land cover in a farming context. Fewer healthy grasslands means fewer animals and dramatically reduces both the carrying capacity and profitability of farms with important consequences for food security. You can express that in numbers.
But Southern Africa is also very much a country of game farms and conservation. In South Africa alone, there are approximately 12 000 registered game farms. Many are rehabilitated farms whilst others have experienced the impact of poor land management over the years.
“We opened our veld management division four years ago to advise rather than criticise, and now have tangible results and examples of what can be achieved. Under the expert eye of Divan Vermaak, a game ranger and veld management expert, we have created strong relationships within both the agricultural and conservation communities,” continued Pieter.
What started at Tala Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal with a small piece of land that was opened up and converted to grassland where more animals could graze, has now grown to involve far larger projects.
“For starters, we have undertaken a large project in Namibia, a country which is grappling with about 54 million hectares of encroachment. Similarly, massive bush encroachment has also taken its toll on both agricultural and conservation land in neighbouring Botswana.
“While we do see the business value of restoring thousands of hectares of high-value land that is now seen as almost worthless, we also know that we are doing far more than can be reflected on a balance sheet,” he concluded.
Rhino pic to come from Shakila … The Husqvarna battery-powered saw painlessly and quietly removes a rhino’s horn to protect it from poachers.
Elk harvesting in Lapland
The 17 000th PONSSE forest machine has rolled off the production line at the company’s manufacturing facility at Vieremä in Finland. The milestone machine, a PONSSE Elk built in mid-August, will start its career in the sure hands of Finnish Lapland harvesting contractor Kuusmoto Oy.
"It is a special privilege to hand over the 17 000th PONSSE machine to Kuusmoto Oy. I wish to thank Kuusmoto for their trust and fantastic cooperation as we continue our journey together," said Sales, Service and Marketing Director Marko Mattila.
Founded in 2014 and hailing from Posio in Finland, Kuusmoto Oy currently employs 17 people. They operate in seven municipalities in Finnish Lapland. The company has a total of nine PONSSE machines. "We are happy to receive this excellent machine and its plaque. Our current plan is to put the birthday boy to work in Posio or Ranua. It will be a fine addition to our fleet," says Tomi Kuusela, managing director of Kuusmoto Oy.
The PONSSE Elk is an economical but powerful workhorse for thinning-oriented harvesting. Its compact design makes the Elk very agile, while its components, shared with larger machines, make it a powerful and durable tool with a first-rate load carrying capacity. The responsive engine, impressive torque and sturdy loader make working comfortable, especially when the operator can enjoy the most spacious cabin on the market, including ergonomic controls.
Introduced into production in 2005, Ponsse has manufactured a total of 947 PONSSE Elk forwarders and delivered them to over 20 countries.
Ponsse's 17,000th forest machine was built to completion at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the global challenges in component availability and delivery.
STIHL pledges support for subsidiary in South Africa
Safety of staff is the company’s top priority as STIHL pledges to rebuild buildings damaged by looters during the recent unrest in South Africa, retain staff and support dealers...
“For us as a family-owned company, the protection and safety of our employees is our top priority” says Dr Nikolas Stihl, Chairman of the STIHL Advisory Board and Supervisory Board. “We are shocked and appalled by the images coming out of South Africa. Parts of the country have been affected by severe rioting, violence and looting. The region in and around Durban has also been affected – as has our South African subsidiary ANDREAS STIHL Ltd. in Pietermaritzburg. We are pleased that all of the employees and their families are unharmed.”
The STIHL SA warehouse in Pietermaritzburg has been completely destroyed and its office building severely damaged as a result of the unrest and looting. STIHL headquarters in Germany has set up a crisis team to organise measures for the protection and well-being of the subsidiary’s roughly 40 employees in cooperation with Hayden Hutton, the Managing Director of STIHL South Africa.
Commitment to South Africa reaffirmed: STIHL guarantees jobs and supports dealers “Our subsidiary in South Africa will continue to exist going forward. No employees will lose their jobs due to this unusual situation. On the contrary, we will rebuild STIHL South Africa. To do so, we need the expertise and dedication of our staff. We will make sure that our customers can continue to buy and use STIHL products in the future,” said Dr Stihl.
The STIHL subsidiary in South Africa supplies local dealers with products. The company has also pledged to help dealers. Right now, it is working on ways to supply dealers with its products in the short to medium term. Containers are being shipped to the country, with plans in place to also send equipment to South Africa by air.
The STIHL Group develops, manufactures, and distributes outdoor power equipment for forestry, agriculture, landscaping and construction sectors.
Logset forestry equipment makes its South African debut
The Logset TH75 Eucalyptus Head made its South African debut in the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg recently. The head, developed in South America for fast and efficient Eucalyptus harvesting and de-barking, is manufactured in Finland by Logset, manufacturers of a full range of forestry harvesting equipment.
Logset has signed a dealer agreement with Green Projects that will see the KwaZulu-Natal-based company market and sell Logset harvesters, forwarders and harvesting heads across Southern Africa. Green Projects will provide a full range of after sales service, parts, maintenance and repairs to Logset customers in the region.
“We are honoured to represent Logset in our territory,” commented Green Projects MD Frank Uzzell. “The Logset products are robust and productive, and are well suited to meet our customers’ needs.”
“We are excited to start working with Green Projects. They have vast experience in selling forest machinery and therefore they are the perfect partner to bring the Logset brand to Africa,” commented Logset CEO Tommi Ekman.
Logset offers a comprehensive range of cut-to-length harvesting equipment including seven harvesters, seven forwarders and seven harvesting heads.
Of particular interest in the Logset stable is the 8H GTE Hybrid harvester. It sports an electric motor that is integrated with the machine’s diesel engine, providing an additional boost of up to 104 kW of power when the machine is under pressure during peak loads. This technology enables the diesel engine to operate at a constant pace which results in fuel savings of up to 25%, claim the manufacturers.
Frank says that in addition to the harvesters, the forwarders will offer harvesting contractors a big advantage, and that clam bunk versions of the forwarders have generated a lot of local interest already.
Green Projects has brought in the Logset TH 75 head which is mounted on an excavator and is busy doing demo’s in the KZN midlands and Drakensberg areas for growers and harvesting contractors.
The Logset TH75 was developed specifically for use in Eucalyptus harvesting in Brazil and is well adapted to local conditions in South Africa, says Frank.
The SA Forestry team saw the head working in a E. nitens compartment in the Drakensberg recently. It was also adept doing thinnings in a nearby pine compartment.
Logset was established in Finland in 1992, and currently operates in 25 countries around the world. Its first harvester was the 500H which was launched at the famous Elmia Wood Fair in Sweden in 1993. A few years later Logset launched its first forwarder, and started manufacturing heads in 2011.
The hybrid harvester was introduced in 2016, the first machine of its kind in the world.
Mining engineer makes a go of timber contracting
How does a qualified mining engineer who rose to the level of a general manager change tack and get into timber harvesting? In the case of Mandla Nxumalo, the answer is almost by accident. However making a success of it was no accident. This requires a focus on hard work, the ability to listen and learn from expert advice, and choosing the right equipment supplier.
Mandla is a qualified mining engineer and, having studied on a scholarship from the largest diamond mining company in the world, was on the up and up. But then something changed and he switched from mining operations to consulting, advising emerging miners and contractors about the discipline of mining and how to make a success of it.
“We often found that although young entrepreneurs had obtained mining licenses, they knew nothing of the discipline, pitfalls and ultimate goals of mining and so did not make it,” Mandla says. “I set out to change that perception through a mining consulting business I had created called Makarapa.”
An entrepreneur at heart, Mandla decided to spread his risk in case of possible tough times in the mining industry and bought three used trucks to haul timber in the Sudwala area in Mpumalanga. He loaded the timber trucks using a Bell 225A Logger that he had bought new. This was followed by a brief foray into timber short hauling which helped him to get his foot in the door of the forestry industry - and more importantly - to meet the right people.
“Soon after I was approached by a large pulp and paper company to ask whether I’d be interested in supplying short-haul services to a timber harvesting initiative they had created for emerging contractors, delivering small volumes,” Mandla says. “This was called Timber Logging Solutions and our close contact with them led us to being offered a stump-to-depot contract even though I knew very little about actual timber harvesting.”
Mandla explains that this happened with the knowledge and the blessing of the forestry company. In July 2018 he bought Timber Logging Solutions to run as his own business.
“We had no timber harvesting equipment to start up with, however we were fortunate enough to be able to rent equipment which enabled us to get started and get the timber moving,” said Mandla.
“We soon learnt the hard way that renting equipment negatively impacts one’s bottom line and when I approached the client about a longer term contract to justify financing timber harvesting equipment, the company responded very quickly with a five-year contract for which I will be eternally grateful,” he says.
“I had adopted Elvis Shabangu of Kanyi Ilanga Trading as my mentor and when I asked him who to approach for timber harvesting equipment, his answer was unequivocal in pointing me to Bell Equipment and the company’s knowledgeable Forestry and Agriculture Manager, Charles Inggs, in Nelspruit. With my limited experience … I decided to stick with the tried and tested and support Bell Equipment, and I have not been disappointed.”
As it happened, Bell Equipment was able to offer Mandla and his company Timber Logging Solutions a deal on a Bell 225A Logger with very favourable terms. A further initiative from the South African Government through its Small Enterprise Finance Agency (SEFA) saw him add an excavator converted into a shovel-yarder along with a light delivery truck and a Bell 225F Logger into the mix.
“Armed with this generous five-year contract, I was able to acquire some serious kit and with favourable terms as well,” he says. “Two other banks came to the party and I added another shovel-yarder, one more Bell 225F Logger and a John Deere 640L Cable Skidder. Added to this I bought two used Bell 225A Loggers bringing my total Bell Logger fleet to six.”
Mandla is adamant that when he researched a big-ticket item such as a John Deere 640L Skidder, his mind was swayed by the fact that Bell Equipment backed this machine and he could rely on trained personnel to handle the maintenance and repairs. His experience in mining had taught him that mechanical equipment requires proper support to ensure maximum up-time.
“It’s been a steep learning curve for me and my staff numbering 71 loyal people, but we’re happily hitting our production targets,” he says. “We started off producing 2 200 tonnes of timber a month, which has now grown to 5 800 tonnes with a reserve stockholding of 1 700 tonnes, and this we could not have done without reliable mechanical equipment.”
Mandla’s management experience comes to the fore as he explains that everyone in his company, himself included, is undergoing skills development all the time. Human resources issues are dealt with promptly and they have managed to meet production targets with limited overtime which points to efficient use of man hours and good mechanical availability.
“Our Bell Loggers are running between 18 and 20 hours a day and having the one-year, unlimited hours warranty on the new Bell F-series Logger is a real blessing,” he adds. “Our F-series Loggers are covered by a maintenance plan up to 2 000 hours and we’re capitalising on this by working them hard in the first year.”
“Having both the A- and F-series Loggers we can tell you that the new Yanmar engines definitely show an improvement in fuel consumption, which has impacted favourably on our operational costs.”
Timber Logging Solutions’ John Deere 640L Cable Skidder is operating for seven hours a day as nighttime skidding is not allowed.
“As a young company our clients mentor us. Safety in the compartment and on loading zones is taken very seriously, something that I’m used to and happy with given my background in mining,” said Mandla.
“On the servicing side I’m happy to report that everyone at Bell Equipment in Nelspruit is accessible and my maintenance manager and I have built a special relationship with the workshop foreman, Louwtjie Erasmus. Bell Equipment’s response times and parts availability are excellent, and should a certain part not be available, it generally arrives the following day. We get the impression that Bell Equipment understands our business and appreciates that downtime favours no one.”