Ellepot propagation system gaining ground in SA

The Ellepot propagation system is designed to grow seedlings or clones in paper pots and to get them from nursery to field and into the ground with minimum hassle in between. This innovative system brings numerous benefits to the table, and is revolutionising the way nurseries grow and deliver seedlings to customers around the world.

Designed and developed in Denmark, the Ellepot system was introduced to South African forestry in 2017 by Shaun Biggs of Ellepot South Africa, and has already been adopted by a number of leading growers and nurseries in the commercial forestry sector.

The key difference between the Ellepot system vs conventional methods of growing forestry plants is that Ellepots are grown in a paper ‘roll’ (it looks like a fat cigar) that holds the growing medium and root plug together on its journey from the nursery to the field and into the ground, where the paper decomposes naturally and the root system grows out into the soil. There is no transplant shock and the tree is literally growing from day one.

The uniformity, density and resilience of Ellepot seedling plugs makes them well suited to the variable planting conditions found in South Africa, as well as for mechanised planting systems in which the plants are fed into the pit through a planting tube or head.

Benefits of the Ellepot system include:-
• Air pruning … this is the drying off of root tips exposed to air. It promotes secondary root formation and produces a root system that closely resembles a direct sown seed in soil. Thus improved root architecture promotes the growth of active young roots that start growing out as soon as the Ellepot seedling is placed in the soil. The young plant gets off to a good, healthy start, with improved survival, growth and uniformity.
• Root plug density – Ellepots have a higher density/weight than standard loose-filled plugs, thus they are easier to handle and are more resilient, and well suited to mechanised planting systems that rely on gravity to feed the seedling through a tube or into a planting head.
• Water holding capacity – the higher density of the Ellepot improves the water holding capacity of the growing medium, resulting in less transplant shock.
• Improved logistics – Ellepots are easier to handle for the roadside unpacking team as no insert extraction required – and no need to return inserts to the holding nursery.
• Nursery automation – the Ellepot system is fast and efficient allowing quicker turnaround and delivery of seedlings and clonal planting material.
• Survival and growth - Growth differences observed range from no difference when planting conditions are ideal, to 30% biomass gain on harsh sites, according to Shaun. Survival gain ranges from 5-8%, depending on site and planting conditions.

Ellepot South Africa is the partner in South Africa that supplies and supports the system from Ellepot machines to the specialised papers for the pots, trays, service and back-up. Sappi was the first South African forestry company to test the system in South Africa after extensive trials, and currently has two large Ellepot machines operating at their nurseries.

Since then, a number of South Africa’s leading forestry nurseries have invested in Ellepot technology and are able to supply their clients forestry plants grown in Ellepots. According to Shaun, most foresters ask for their plants to be exclusively supplied in Ellepots once they have trialled the system in field.

The system also provides an opportunity to relook at the Plant Quality Index and the specs required by foresters, as there is more scope for flexibility and innovation with the stabilised Ellepot media. There are also opportunities to move towards mechanised silviculture and to relook at the logistics of getting plants to the field.

The Ellepot system was founded in Denmark in 1993, and is now operating in 120 countries around the world, producing around five billion Ellepots a year. The system is being used in commercial forestry as well as fruit and nut trees and vegetable crops.

Shaun says that there is a strong focus on R&D within the Ellepot group. “There is an impressive pipeline of new machines, papers and trays, and Ellepot South Africa has been working closely with Ellepot Denmark on testing new products,” said Shaun. “This will undoubtedly lead to further gains in transplant performance and growth infield.”

For more info visit: www.ellepot.com/za

Beast of a mulcher made in RSA

A call from sunny Pretoria – the land of the Blue Bulls and Mamelodi Sundowns – sent the SA Forestry team on a mission to Bulwer on the road to the Drakensberg mountains in KZN to find a big, South African-manufactured drum mulcher dubbed the ‘Beast’.

We found it! One couldn’t miss it, actually! It was parked next to the road, an impressive hulk of a machine dressed in yellow and grey livery that looks capable of reducing bush, post-harvest slash and big tree stumps to a mulch with relative ease.

The Wuhlf 960 wheeled mulcher is a 276kW machine manufactured by Wuhlf Equipment in Pretoria. According to the Wuhlf team it compares favourably with any of the imported mulchers in terms of durability, reliability and productivity, with one significant advantage. It is designed and manufactured in SA specifically to suit conditions in Africa, so the spares, maintenance and technical skills required to keep this machine working productively are available on our doorstep.

At roughly half the cost of equivalent mulchers manufactured overseas, the Wuhlf 960 is a new addition to the Wuhlf stable of mulchers which include the smaller 920 (85kW) and 930 (129kW) drum mulchers – all wheeled machines.

The Wuhlf team was in KZN to do a demo of the 960 for Alastair Fagg of Grand Bridge Trading, one of the leading South African contractors with a lot of experience in mulching in forestry applications.

The demo site was a local farm where the farmer is clearing old wattle land for pasture. The Wuhlf 960 proceeded to reduce the above ground vegetation and old wattle stumps to a decent mulch with ease, under the watchful eyes of the farmer and the Grand Bridge team.

Alastair said that he was interested in the Wuhlf mulcher to add to his stable of mulchers which include large, purpose-built tracked mulchers. He is a big believer in the benefits of mulching post-harvest residues in forestry compared to the traditional practice of burning slash, as well as in other land care applications such as land conversion and bush clearing.

Grand Bridge Trading started doing trials of complete field mulching in South Africa at Sappi Zululand some eight years back with a five year contract to mulch 1 800 hectares a year.

This pioneering work enabled Sappi South Africa to determine the true benefits of mulching versus traditional burning, and the results exceeded expectations, said Alastair. 

Since then Grand Bridge has stayed within the Sappi stable, believing in the advantages of mulching. While Sappi is busy expanding its mulching operations, a growing number of corporate and private growers and farmers around South Africa are also turning to mulching to reap the benefits. These include improved soil care (moisture and nutrient retention), improved compartment access, reduced fire risk and the opportunity to re-plant immediately after the mulcher has reduced the post-harvest residue to an even mulch cover.

Wuhlf Equipment
Wuhlf Equipment was established in 2004 by brothers Johan and Carl Grobler, supplying and supporting front end loaders, 4x4 forklifts and a range of attachments. In 2013 they started designing and manufacturing mulchers to be used in Africa mainly for bush clearing. There are a large number of Wuhlf mulchers out there doing exactly that.

They recently added the Wuhlf 960 to their product line with the aim of putting it to work in the forestry environment which requires more power and durability.

The complete mulcher head plus the canopy and the hydraulics are manufactured in Wuhlf’s Pretoria factory. The chassis, wheels, gearbox, diff and hydraulic pumps are sourced from leading international suppliers. The mulchers are assembled at the factory in Pretoria.

Johan Grobler says that the 960 does not come with complicated, high-tech computer systems. He says any competent hydraulic and diesel mechanic can maintain and repair the machines if necessary, thus improving machine availability. They’re simple, tough and well suited to conditions across Africa, he says.

The mulchers come with a 12 month or 1 000 hours warranty, with more extended warranty options available.

Wuhlf Equipment’s timing in entering the mulching market couldn’t be better. Mulching is really taking off in this part of the world as land owners and managers realise the long term benefits of the operation.

“Mulching will have a massive impact in southern Africa in bush clearing and improving land care practices,” said Johan. “There are 19 million hectares of bush encroachment in Namibia alone.”

He said that there are around 40 Wuhlf mulchers working across southern Africa, mainly doing bush clearing, but this was their first foray into the forestry sector. The team understood that forestry needed more grunt, hence the introduction of the 276 kW Wuhlf 960 Drum Mulcher.

Visit wuhlf.co.za for more info and see the Wuhlf 960 in action on our YouTube channel...

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.

*Related article: SA researchers push the innovation envelope