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The Future of Forestry

The Future of Forestry

Posted on 08 Mar 2023

Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be. - Khalil Gibran

In our previous article, we looked into some of the advances in modern agriculture, and the change of mindset shown by agriculturalists around the world. We touched on the progresses in forestry, and how 300 year-old techniques are starting to be challenged by new advances in technology, and the growing awareness of the importance of site specific adaptation.

Globally, about 300 million hectares of plantation forests, and 900 million hectares of natural forests are used for wood production. Combined, they supply nearly two billion cubic meters of industrial wood (for example, for construction, paper, and packaging) and another two billion cubic meters of fuelwood for household heating and cooking. The economic value of the industrial wood is on the order of £150 billion, while the fuelwood, although less in monetary value, is a vital source of energy for households in developing countries.

Precision Forestry

It is estimated that 76% of the world’s forests are publicly owned. This has meant that unlike other forms or agriculture, forestry has been relatively slow to adapt to new technologies. In addition, many forests - from eucalyptus plantations in South America to managed natural forests in Europe and North America are in remote and rugged terrain, presenting their own unique challenges. As precision forestry is a relatively new methodology, there are not many examples to act as blueprints for others to adopt.

However other industries have progressed, for example the pulp, paper and transportation have adopted sophisticated technologies to increase their efficiencies. 

Precision forestry has a number of core concepts that distinguish it from its more traditional form:

  • The diversity of species is encouraged through the use of selectively bred seedlings grown under tightly controlled conditions. 

  • Site-specific use of fertilizers, based on location specific analysis of any deficiencies in soil nutrients.

  • Maintaining a detailed digital inventory of the area using a combination of technologies including drones, light detection and ranging (lidar), in-forest scanning and mobile phones.

  • Mechanized tree-felling and transportation, digitally integrated with onward logistics and supply chain management systems.

  • Use of satellites and drones to provide an early warning of forest fires, along with the coordinated and centrally planned immediate response.  

Cut-To-Length Technology

Previously, tree felling was carried out by an operative with a chainsaw who would make ad-hoc decisions about the log grades to be made from each tree based on experience and estimated guidelines. After felling a tree, operatives would use wheeled skidders or cable systems to drag the trees to the side of the road, and then sawn them into logs. The operators would often carry out the hazardous process known as  “breaking out” where they would climb over piles of felled logs and debris to fix the chains to the trees, facing the constant risk of runaway trunks.

With the new cut-to-length (CTL) technology, developed in Scandinavia over the past 20 years, a single ‘harvester’ vehicle fells the trees and converts them into logs in one process. A ‘forwarder’ is then used to safely transport the logs to the roadside, ready for transportation. Software is used to constantly monitor sensors on the harvesters to manage the grades of logs being produced by the process. Together with GPS technology, and fuel management systems, a real-time analysis can be carried out about the progress of the felling at any time.

LIDAR and Water Management

The 3D images produced by this laser based scanning technology are increasingly being used to produce water-flow models for a specific location, and calculate estimates of standing timber inventory (such as trees per hectare, tree heights, and trunk diameters). This in turn allows the location of new roads to be optimized for greater fuel efficiency, and reduced impact to the overall environment. When combined with drone-based thermal imaging technologies, the location of possible pest and disease outbreaks can be quickly identified, even in the most remote of locations.

The burgeoning use of software applications in the forestry industry also allows for integrations with weather APIs. These give valuable information that can give nuanced insights into historic, current and future weather conditions in the forest, wherever it may be in the world. For example, the OpenWeather Global Weather Alerts can give advance warnings of higher than average temperatures or rainfall to help mitigate against destructive forest fires, or flash floods. 

The OpenWeather History Bulk API can for the first time give forest managers and analysts accurate insights into the detailed, historic weather conditions that the forest experienced since 1979. This will help them build far more accurate and nuanced insight into the behavior of the individual parts of the forest in relation to certain weather conditions.

Climate-Smart Forestry

Forests provide the most important carbon sink to mitigate against climate change. However, due to the globally rising temperatures, forests and other wooded areas are becoming more susceptible to wildfires. These fires release carbon into the atmosphere, exacerbating the effects of climate change. In addition to the destruction that fire brings, the variations in weather patterns that climate change brings also encourages breakouts of forest-destroying pests , such as the bark beetle. A recent study estimated that the combined damage brought about by wildfires and bark beetles will amount to approximately one million cubic meters of timber per year - about the areas of 7000 football fields. This loss would offset carbon-sink projects aiming to increase global forestation.

Climate-smart forestry (CSF) in many ways mirrors the aims of precision forestry by using area specific strategies that take into account the weather, climate, geographical location, soil composition etc. of the region. It aims to restore the health, biodiversity and resilience of forests through adaptive forest management. However it also takes into account wider ranging factors such as the way wood, and other forest produce are used in society - encouraging the recycling and repurposing principles advocated by the circular economy model that we discussed in our previous article. CSF is represented by a research network that looks at the common challenges faced by forests in Europe, Scandinavia and Russia, suggesting funding and technological options that can be adopted.  

Understanding the Weather

Global agricultural sectors are adapting to the unique challenges they are facing, forest management (Silviculture) is adapting and changing century old techniques in a similar way that the wine industry is adapting to theirs. Whereas ‘Terroirs’ has always been known as the slightly arbitrary, yet controllable element of the wine industry, it is also proving to be just as relevant to forestry. 

OpenWeather provides precision farming solutions: 

Our Agro API that leverages the processing of large amounts of satellite and climate data, providing satellite imagery, vegetation indices and weather data as well as analytical reports and crop monitoring. These solutions can also be utilized by other industry sectors such as insurance and banking as they can be used as a farm rating tool.

Agro Dashboard:  a visual service that monitors field states over the year. The service operates with satellite imagery and weather data along with advanced machine learning technologies.

Crop Map:  provides analytical reports and detailed datasets for crop monitoring that include:

  • Crop map (soy, corn, wheat, etc.)

  • Recognised field boundaries

  • Vegetation indices statistics by each recognised field

  • Climate data for regions and particular field

Agro Analytics: Reports that can be customized that include overviews of the conditions of the observed crops, distribution on the map of the type of crops and their condition, vegetation statistics, etc. Data can be stratified and aggregated by any criterion, for instance, by crops, by regions, by years.

In both industries, OpenWeather can help in the understanding of climate and weather, which is often the pivotal factor in their success, and what will ultimately as Khalil Gibran suggested, “advance toward what will be”.

About OpenWeather:

At OpenWeather, we create highly recognisable weather products, aimed at the needs of our customers, that make working with weather data effective and straightforward.

The wide variety of these products work across a multitude of enterprises, and include a vast range of forecasts including minute forecast, observation and historic information for any global location. Our industry-standard, fast, reliable APIs streamline flexible integration with enterprise systems. Our pricing and licensing is transparent.

For more information on how to gain access to our OpenWeather products, please email us.

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