SA made Wuhlf mulcher put through its paces

The Wuhlf 960-2 wheeled mulcher is designed and manufactured in South Africa for African conditions.

The Wuhlf team put their big Wuhlf 960-2 wheeled mulcher through its paces at York’s Jessievale plantation in Mpumalanga in late October under close scrutiny from York’s forestry team as well as Brad Shuttleworth of Forestry Solutions, who was there to do a detailed productivity study to gauge its performance.

The Wuhlf 960-2 wheeled mulcher is a 276kW machine designed and manufactured by Pretoria-based Wuhlf Equipment. According to the Wuhlf team it compares favourably with any of the imported mulchers in terms of durability, reliability and productivity, with an additional advantage: It is designed and manufactured in SA specifically to suit conditions in Africa, so the purchase price is significantly cheaper than comparative imported machines while the spares, maintenance and technical skills required to keep it working productively are available on our doorstep. Electronics on the mulcher are kept to a minimum and there is no high-tech computer gadgetry requiring specialised skills to maintain. The machine can be repaired and serviced by any qualified hydraulic and diesel mechanics.

This compartment has been mulched clean after clear felling, and is ready for the planting operation to follow.

The Jessievale trials saw the mulcher clean up the stumps and slash left behind four months after clearfelling 20-25 year old Pinus patula grown for sawlogs. The slash conditions were ranked in three classes for purposes of the trial: Light slash; Medium; and Difficult (with big branches, stumps & high slash piles):-

Pass lengthLightMediumDifficult
100 m2.0 hrs/ha2.6 hrs/ha3.5 hrs/ha
200 m1.8 hrs/ha2.4 hrs/ha3.3 hrs/ha
300 m1.7 hrs/ha2.3 hrs/ha3.2 hrs/ha

Above is a quick snapshot of the time trial results. Note that the shorter the pass length the more time it takes to mulch a hectare due to the increased number of turns that the machine has to make. Also note that Brad said that the mulcher operator used in the trial was relatively inexperienced, and he would expect that a more experienced operator would improve productivity by 10-15%.

The Wuhlf mulcher busy mulching the post-harvest slash.

The aim of the mulching operation is to reduce the slash and stumps to a mulch blanket which covers the soil and protects it from erosion and moisture loss, while providing easy access for the pitting and planting operations to follow. Mulching also eliminates the need for a controlled burn of the slash which carries a fire risk and can damage the soil.

According to Wuhlf Sales Executive Grant Moodley, the 960-2 performed well at Jessievale and the York team were suitably impressed. It was trialled on compartments with light, medium and heavy slash to properly gauge its performance under different conditions.

Wuhlf started designing and building mulchers in 2013 and have a number of different machines in production including a T90 tracked mulcher for use in under-canopy mulching, a 930 (129 kW) medium size wheeled mulcher and the big 960-2 wheeled machine.

These stumps have been reduced to ground level.

The mulcher heads, canopies, hydraulic pipes and brackets etc are manufactured in-house, the Danfoss hydraulic pumps are sourced from a local manufacturer, while the chassis, wheels, gearbox, diffs and engine are imported. The machines are assembled in the Wuhlf manufacturing facility in Pretoria. The mulchers come with a 12 month/1 000 hours warranty, with more extended warranty options available.

The Wuhlf mulchers will be on show at the Focus on Forestry Conference taking place in Karkloof in the KZN midlands from 7-9 November, so go along to meet the team and see the mulchers in the flesh.

Big boost for the bakkie-sakkie

Compact and powerful … the new bakkie sakkie is a result of collaboration between Anco Manufacturing and Husqvarna.

Every land manager knows that early detection and rapid response is the best method for keeping your property safe from wildfires. Often the first person to arrive at a wildfire is a forester or farmer with a ‘bakkie sakkie’ which is able to get close enough to the fire to extinguish it before it gets big, dangerous and out of control.

Those precious few minutes provide a window of opportunity that can make the difference between a minor fire statistic and a major wildfire disaster. It’s at times like this that the forester/farmer wants to know that the bakkie sakkie on the back of his vehicle is armed and loaded and ready to deploy a jet of water with enough velocity to kill the fire quickly and efficiently.

Now two heavy-weight equipment suppliers - Husqvarna and ANCO Manufacturing - have collaborated in an exciting partnership to develop a highly effective, robust and reliable 'Bakkie Sakkie' mobile firefighting unit that is well adapted to combating veld and forest fires.

Ruan van Schalkwyk, Husqvarna's Area Business Manager for Limpopo and Mpumalanga, and the project's pointsman, explains: "The concept is simple yet remarkably ingenious. ANCO designed a water tank engineered to be mounted at the rear of a bakkie (pickup truck). Powered by a robust Husqvarna multi-purpose engine (MPE) and a high-capacity water pump, the result is a mobile firefighting unit that can be rapidly deployed to combat fires, even in the most remote and challenging terrains.”

The key component of this firefighting innovation is the Husqvarna HH 163 MP multi-purpose engine, known for its reliability and robustness. It features a powerful 163cc petrol engine that is durable, water, and rust-resistant, making it ideal for the 'Bakkie Sakkie' unit.

“This engine is built to withstand the harsh conditions often encountered during firefighting,” says Ruan.
One of the standout features of the HH 163 MP is its optimised combustion chamber and air vent, resulting in lower fuel consumption and reduced emissions during operation.

Casper Pieterse, the Operations Manager at ANCO Manufacturing, says that the decision to partner with Husqvarna was an easy one. “The idea for the collaboration originated with Husqvarna South Africa’s Managing Director, Pieter Smuts. When it was presented to us, we recognised the potential of their product powering the ‘Bakkie Sakkie’, offering farmers a game-changing, reliable solution to the very real and ongoing threat of veld fires.”

Anco Manufacturing is a proudly South African company that specialises in the manufacture of a variety of fire fighting units and equipment as well as silviculture equipment used in forestry, such as mechanised boom planters.

By combining the ‘Bakkie Sakkie’ with the HH 163 MP multi-purpose engine that fits snugly on the back of a bakkie, farmers and foresters can respond swiftly and effectively to fires, making all the difference in containing a blaze before it escalates.

“Husqvarna has an impressive reputation for reliability, and we are confident that by combining our manufacturing expertise with Husqvarna’s powerful MPE, we have a dependable resource that will deliver optimal performance when it’s needed most,” adds Casper.

The partnership between Husqvarna and ANCO Manufacturing has positioned both companies as innovators in firefighting technology. Their commitment to creating an effective product that will assist professionals, as well as farmers in their firefighting efforts, showcases their ongoing dedication to finding creative solutions that also maximise safety. The ‘Bakkie Sakkie’ represents a new standard in innovation and another step forward in ensuring that first responders have the tools they need to access and attack fires before they get away.

For more information on the HH 163 MP or to view Husqvarna’s range of products, visit

Phillip Mpangela – guardian of the KwaMbo forests

Phillip Mpangela (right) and Muzi Sibiya discussing forestry business.

Story and photos: Samora Chapman

Phillip Mpangela has been growing trees in KwaMbonambi, northern KwaZulu-Natal, for 25 years. He started working in the family forests alongside his father in 1997, immediately after finishing high school. Over the years he took over the maintenance of the woodlots and gradually acquired and planted all of the family land belonging to his siblings. Today he manages over 30 hectares of land – all stocked with carefully maintained Eucalyptus trees, which grow tall and strong in the sandy white soil of his ancestors.

“Our lives are tied to the animals and the earth,” says Phillip as he looks out on his timber farm. He is joined by Muzi Sibiya from Khulanathi Forestry and the two foresters take a walk to a newly planted compartment to check on the progress of the young trees. It’s a hot spring afternoon in Zululand – the homestead is surrounded by fields of maize and a noisy flock of goats scatter into a grassland nearby to graze.

The newly planted area is well fenced to protect it from livestock, and the seedlings are growing strong under the watchful eye of Phillip, the guardian of the forests.

Khulanathi Forestry supply both the seedlings and the market access for Phillip’s business, a vital partnership that supports the small grower through all the phases of forestry. The seedlings are sponsored by Mondi Zimele, Khulanathi’s strategic partner in empowering small-scale timber growers in the region. Mondi Zimele supplies 500 000 seedlings to small growers in the region every year.

Phillip Mpangela passes on some insights into forestry to the next generation.

“My father instilled in me a passion for the land,” reflects Phillip. “I wish to do the same for my children. This business will be passed on to them … but my hope is that they will do more skilled work and be able to employ people to manage the day-today running of the plantations.”

Phillip hires up to 20 local people when he is harvesting and 10-15 people when he is doing other work like planting, maintenance and fire break preparation. He recently bought his own labour carrier and three chainsaws.

Muzi Sibiya assists with timber orders as well as procuring timber transport to either the Khulanathi depot in KwaMbonambi, or directly to the Mondi Mill in Richards Bay. “Timber transport is a challenge because of the high cost … but at the same time it is good for others to have jobs,” comments Phillip.

Khulanathi also offers technical skills transfer through field days and ongoing mentorship on the business and operational aspects of forestry.

Muzi Sibiya uses his bike to get around on his weekly visits to the small-scale growers he works with in the region.

“The relationship with Khulanathi has been productive,” says Phillip as he sits on a log-stack in the shade to escape the blazing afternoon sun. “Muzi came to check this site and approve the land … makes sure that I’m not planting too close to the watercourse. All the support goes a long way – the seedlings, the market for the timber, the advice is all very valuable. Forestry is so important to life in KwaMbonambi.”

Phillip explains that he uses his knowledge and experience to support other small growers in the community. “My role is to guide the community, especially with the more technical things like burning firebreaks, spacing out during planting and advising on the right time to harvest. We are planting GU clones with a spacing of 2.4 metres and harvesting on a five-year rotation.”

One of Phillip Mpangele’s well-kept Eucalyptus compartments.

Phillip is in the process of diversifying into livestock (cattle and goats) as well as agriculture. A new development is that of intercropping – the planting of beans and peanuts in-between the Eucalyptus seedlings. This venture promises to create a new income stream and maximise use of the available land.

His future plans are to continue expanding his timber farm and set up a family trust for his children. “I’m not afraid to say that I will be a millionaire in five years,” he says without a shadow of doubt. A bold statement and proof that forestry is going a long way toward sustaining current and future generations in the communities of KwaMbonambi.

Harvested timber ready for market.
Phillip Mpangele’s homestead with trees, maize fields and goats all neatly fenced off into separate camps for maximum productivity.

SA Forestry 2021 Annual published

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:-

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:

Tribute to Dr Jaap Steenkamp

By Fanie Viljoen – CEO, Novelquip Forestry

The South African forestry industry has lost a stalwart in Dr Jacob Cornelus Steenkamp, better known as ‘Jaap’, who passed away in his hometown of George on 22 July 2021 after a two year battle with an interstitial lung disease.

Jaap was born in 1958 in Theunissen and attended Brandfort High School whereafter he enrolled for a B.Sc Forestry at the University of Stellenbosch. Jaap would later graduate with a Doctorate in Business Administration from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), and an MBA from Stellenbosch University Business School. He also acquired a diploma in Road Transport Management from the RAU and an Environmental Economics certificate of competence from Rhodes University.

As a student Jaap attended the Bonnievale high school matric dance as a blind date for Ms. Careen van der Westhuizen. Little did Jaap know that this dance would endure for the next 39 years. Jaap and Careen, or Fiena as Jaap affectionately called her, married in 1983 in Bonnievale. Their son Helgaard was born in 1987 and their daughter Joan in 1989.

After completing his military service Jaap’s career in forestry started with the Dept. of Environmental Affairs as a Junior Forester in 1981 in the Knysna area. By 1989 he had started his own contracting concern servicing SAFCOL in the Nelshoogte area.

In the same year Jaap co-founded the South African Forestry Contractors Association as an organization to represent and assist forestry contractors and forward their interests in the commercial forestry sector. Jaap was intimately involved in the leadership of SAFCA for nearly 32 years until his passing and he played an immense role in developing SAFCA from its humble beginnings with just nine founding contractors to an organisation with some 300 members, who represent around 90% of all forestry contractors currently active in South Africa and employing up to 30, 000 people. Jaap helped SAFCA live up to its vision of being an apolitical, non-racial, non-profit association established to serve and uplift forestry contractors on a fair and equal basis.

Jaap relocated to George to commence an academic career at the NMU Saasveld campus in 2003 where he would become a senior lecturer in the Forestry Programme. It is here that Jaap played an instrumental role in shaping many future foresters. He authored or co-authored a number of scientific papers and supervised or co-supervised many post-graduate students.

Dr Muedanyi Ramantswana, a friend, colleague and former student of Jaap notes that ‘Oom Jaap’ was a wealth of knowledge. “He had a passion for sharing valuable information and skills with his students, through his intriguing lectures and one on one conversations. He supervised many postgraduate students and made a lasting impact on many graduates, especially in the specialised field of Business Management. Dr Steenkamp had a vision to see the forestry industry become better, through equipping people with knowledge and creating technology. He always had the best interests of the forestry industry in his heart, and we will always remember him as a caring friend, a great lecturer, a visionary and successful entrepreneur. He had many sayings, one of his favourites was ‘the cutting edge is also the bleeding edge’ – we pay tribute to a pioneer who lived his life on the cutting edge of life. A great tree has fallen, may his legacy live on in the forestry industry,” commented Muedanyi.

Jaap was as an incredibly innovative and visionary man. During his PhD studies which researched the impact of HIV Aids on the local forestry industry, Jaap realized that in time foresters would come under increasing pressure to mechanize silviculture operations to create decent jobs and increase competitiveness. For Jaap, every problem had a solution and he would lie awake at night drawing hand sketches of potential solutions to mechanization challenges, many of which were far ahead of their time. Several national and international patents are attributed to him.

In 2007 he ventured into entrepreneurship by starting Novelquip Forestry (Pty) Ltd, formerly known as Multipit, as a vehicle to bring his silviculture mechanization ideas to life. In 2009 Jaap’s son Helgaard joined the business and together they introduced various ground-breaking innovations, including the ubiquitous Multipit MPAT pitting machine, of which more than 40 units have been implemented in the local industry. Jaap would later branch his business interests out to include Silvimech, a silviculture contractor, and Forestry and Allied Manufacturing, a manufacturing concern specializing in forestry engineering solutions. Jaap’s dream was to introduce a fully mechanized planter to the market and much of his energy and time over the past decade was dedicated to the realization of this dream. Excellent progress has been made and Helgaard and the Novelquip team will continue to work tirelessly to achieve this dream in honour of Jaap.

“Jaap’s legacy will endure in the ongoing commercialisation of his planting inventions via Novelquip and its strategic alliances,” commented Guy Harris, Chairman of Novelquip. “His innovation and determination will continue via the company he founded.”  

Jaap continued to consult widely in the industry and remained closely involved with the forestry contracting industry. He served a term on the National Forestry Advisory Council, was  a member of the Forestry Charter Council and served on the FIETA Forestry Chamber and Authority for eight years. In 2014 Jaap was recognized by the Southern African Institute of Forestry for his exceptional service to forestry in Southern Africa. Considering all Jaap’s achievements and involvement in numerous projects, it’s hard to believe that one man could have been involved in so much. But he was so passionate about what he did that he never saw it as work and he would never shy away from opportunities to contribute to the forestry cause where he could, even when there was no personal gain.

Tributes received from a number of Jaap’s forestry colleagues on news of his passing provide an indication of how highly he was regarded in the industry:-

Andrew McEwan (CMO):  “Jaap will be remembered as someone who worked tirelessly for the betterment of the South African forestry industry. There are few who have contributed so much and on so many fronts. Jaap was not prepared to accept the status quo and went out of his way to change things for the better, fight for what he believed in and develop people to be more professional. This fed into his multiple roles as teacher, lecturer, researcher, entrepreneur, innovator and leader. He has changed the forestry landscape and for this we are forever indebted.”

Dean de Costa (Senior Silviculture Specialist, Mondi SA): “Jaap was a business colleague and a friend. We knew each other for many years and he always found time in his busy schedule when he came to KZN to pop in for a visit and chat about our forest industry, modernisation developments and more importantly life in general. A lot of people don't realise the contribution that Jaap made to the modernisation of silviculture and the number of operational designs now commonly found throughout are as a direct result of his design and innovation. Jaap was a pool of knowledge and not only was he technically astute but his business savvy was always valuable. He was a man of strong Christian principles and his love for his family was always at the fore in our personal chats. Jaap was immensely proud of their achievements and the close knit bond they enjoyed. I will miss you old friend; your loss to our technological journey and to the forestry fraternity is profound. We will meet again.”  

Michal Brink (CMO): “When thinking of Jaap, I see a larger than life figure – a plus tree that remains in the forest to provide for future generations. One expects the plus tree to be there forever – not expecting it be taken down so suddenly before its time by a pandemic. Jaap, you left us too early and still had so much to contribute through your entrepreneurial spirit and never-give-up attitude. Thank you for what you meant to so many of us – we salute you and may you rest peacefully my dear friend.”

Jaap was a deeply religious man who was unwavering in his faith and his devotion to his heavenly Father. He led his local church congregation with weekly services and touched the lives of his fellow church members in unimaginable ways. He was  spiritual mentor and father figure to many.

Away from the forest and lecture hall, Jaap was a passionate hunter and conservationist who enjoyed spending time in the bush with his family. Jaap’s friends will remember him as a kind and compassionate man who always stood up for what he believed in.  

Dwayne Marx, a close friend and mentee, noted that Jaap was a forest modernization pioneer who touched thousands of lives, and who will always be remembered as a Forestry Legend.

Anyone that knew Jaap would attest to his love of and dedication to his family. Nothing was as important to him than his faith and family. He is survived by his wife Careen, son Helgaard, daughter Joan, daughter-in-law Nadia and three grandchildren.

In his lifetime Jaap’s contribution to forestry and its people was far reaching and his loss will without a doubt be felt by many. But his legacy in the forestry industry will endure to be felt by many more.

A memorial is to be held for Jaap on Friday 30 July at 11:00 will be live streamed and those interested in attending virtually can make contact with Fanie Viljoen by email at

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 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

Mulching a game changer in SA forestry

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

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.

Related article: Mulching gaining ground in SA